This week’s development as Newsmaker of the Week just ended is Lieutenant General Rocky Meade’s decision to decline his appointment as Cabinet Secretary.
The announcement of the immediate former chief of defence staff as Cabinet secretary on Tuesday came as a shock to some, leading to much public debate from senior attorneys who contended that the appointment was in breach of the constitution.
The constitution outlines that, “There shall be a Secretary of the Cabinet who shall be appointed by the Governor-General, acting on the recommendation of the Prime Minister, from a list of public officers submitted by the Public Service Commission.”
To date, the Government has remained silent on the constitutionality of the appointment that led to a contentious debate across social and traditional media for two days before Meade brought the matter to an abrupt end.
More than 48 hours after the appointment, a statement from the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM) confirmed on Thursday that the retired army boss had declined the Cabinet secretary position amid the increasing public discourse around the matter.
In the release, Meade said he was advised by the Office of the Cabinet that he would receive a letter of appointment from the governor-general, through the Office of the Services Commission, for the post of Cabinet secretary on the recommendation of the prime minister, with input from the Public Services Commission.
“After almost four decades of service to the people of Jamaica, I was convinced to continue to serve, and had initially indicated my intention to accept the offer,” said Meade.
“Although I was invited by the Public Services Commission to be considered for the post while I was still a serving officer, the current public discourse does not provide a sufficiently settled environment for the assumption of such a significant office, and I will therefore seek His Excellency’s understanding of my decision to decline (the offer),” he indicated.
Meade thanked the governor-general, the prime minister and the Public Services Commission for considering him for the post.
Meade was to take office on October 1, succeeding Ambassador Douglas Saunders. The OPM said Saunders held the post since June 2008.
“Meade’s years of experience in Government will be an asset to the public service and a crucial part of our continued thrust towards efficiency and service excellence,” Prime Minister Andrew Holness said in a release on Tuesday about the army boss’ appointment.
The prime minister thanked the outgoing Cabinet secretary for his “decades of committed service to the Jamaican people”, stating that he demonstrated integrity, accountability and commitment to the Government of the day and the people of Jamaica.
Prime Minister Andrew Holness
In that release, Meade expressed optimism about his then pending new role.
“I am humbled and honoured to be considered for this critical role. I pledge to further the positive evolution of the public service for the benefit of the wider society,” Meade was quoted as saying in the release.
According to the Office of the Cabinet, “The Cabinet secretary is the most senior policy adviser in the civil service.
“He is secretary to the Cabinet, responsible to all ministers for the running of Cabinet, and is also the head of the civil service.”
Additional roles of the Cabinet secretary include, among other things, providing support and advice to the Government and overseeing the provision of policy and secretariat support to Cabinet and Cabinet committees.
“As head of the public service, he is responsible for developing a highly professional public service (that is) able to effectively execute Government business.
“As head of the Permanent Secretaries Board, he is responsible for guiding the execution of ministry plans that align with Government’s priorities,” the Office of the Cabinet outlined.
But several legal and constitutional minds were early in questioning the rationale behind the Public Services Commission placing Meade’s name on a list of public officers to be considered for the post.
The legal luminaries posited that as a member of the military, Meade was not a public officer because the army is not formally considered to be part of the public service.
Consequently, with the Cabinet secretary role being supposedly constitutionally required to be held by a serving or former member public officer, it was contended that Meade was not eligible to take up the position unless he is appointed to the public service and then as Cabinet Secretary.
Noted attorney, Clive Williams, took to Twitter on Thursday, and provided photos of how the Jamaican Constitution defined the meaning of a public office, public officer and the public service.
The constitution said: “Public office means any office of emolument in the public service.”
In relation to the term public officer, the constitution defines it as “the holder of any public office, and includes any person appointed to act in such office.”
The public service, according to the constitution, means, “the service of the Crown in a civil capacity in respect of the Government of Jamaica (including service as a member of the Judicial Service Commission, the Public Service Commission or the Police Service Commission), and includes public service in respect of the former Colony of Jamaica.”
Williams also provided the section of the constitution that advised how a Cabinet secretary should be appointed.
Against that background, Williams tweeted: “The Govt & public affairs of JA, how the business of the country is conducted, are not the personal affairs of members of the Cabinet & MPs (Members of Parliament).
“The allocation of power, role & duties of office holders, criteria for selection etc, are outlined in the constitution. Wrong & strong, bad,” he commented.
Following the OPM release on Thursday night, in which Meade expressed his decision to not accept the position, Williams tweeted: “Big man ting. Respecs Lieutenant General Meade.”
For her part, Executive Director of Jamaicans for Justice (JFJ), Mickel Jackson, tweeted: “The mishap with the post of Cabinet secretary suggests that either the Government does not understand the provisions in the constitution, or it has no regard for it. Either way, it’s cause for concern. Troubling!”
@ermalii16 wrote: “Wise move. The suggested appointment was not thought out thoroughly by the Government.”
But on Twitter, not all agreed with the decision that was taken by Meade, and the controversy which preceded the decision on whether the appointment was constitutional.
Public commentator, Kevin O’Brien Chang, tweeted: “It’s obviously a technicality. But the constitution must be obeyed.
“But Jamaica is short of human capital & cannot afford to lose the willing services of such a brave patriot (who is) suitable for the job.
Lieutenant General Rocky Meade as Chief of Defence Staff.
“Give him (Meade) a public service job for whatever required time & bring him back on board,” suggested Chang.
Another Twitter user, @jayjaybrown97, shared: “Get Rocky Meade in another position in the public sector, then move to Cabinet secretary. Public sector must be cleaned up.”
On Facebook, there were similar views expressed that the necessary adjustments be made to accommodate the former army boss in the position.
“The public service need cleaning up. Meade would do that, but it’s Jamaica’s loss,” commented Melissa Smith.
Jackie Walters wrote: “Appoint him (Rocky Meade) to another position in the public sector and get him back in the running for Cabinet secretary.
“His expertise and years of experience are needed to clean up the corruption across Government offices,” she claimed.
However, there were others who commended Meade for showing his integrity by declining the post, given the purported constitutional issues if he was sworn in as Cabinet secretary.
“The man don’t want to be in any bangarang. Integrity. Stand up, Mr Meade,” said Facebook user, Jeanie Green.
“I appreciate and applaud his stance on the issue, I don’t think he needs all the drama that comes with it. He can make a contribution elsewhere,” commented Norris Creary.
Another Facebook user, Fay Johnson, stated: “I’m pleased he (Rocky Meade) turned the position being offered to him down.
“The civil service is a serious and important part of Gov’t . In our daily operations we are neither JLP nor PNP, we serve!”
Leroy Cornwall questioned: “Soldiers done a head of police force and the JDF, so why he needed to be surrounded by so many army personnel?”
Social media user, Daniel Wray, opined: “Seems like Jamaica becoming a military state before our eyes?
“Why the Public Service Commission would sabotage their reputation when the constitution clearly outlines who should get the job and how? Something else seems to be at play, but more questions and no answers on the Government’s decision,” he indicated.
Up to the time of publication, there was no indication as to who would assume the new role as Cabinet secretary.
The Public Service Commission has also refrained from providing any clarity on the several emerging issues relative to the appointment.