JIS News

Since October, 2008, Mrs Sharon Crooks, without much fanfare, but with a sharp focus and quiet efficiency has taken on the arduous task as the Financial Secretary to the Government within the Ministry of Finance and the Public Service.
“The Financial Secretary is the only Permanent Secretary named in the Constitution of Jamaica, and by its function, the Ministry of Finance ought to be the premier Ministry within the Civil Service of Jamaica. It is my intention, it is my dream, and it is my vision to reposition the Ministry of Finance and the Public Service to that status. This means that we are going to have to focus not only on the objectives of achieving sustainable growth, but we are going to have to do it while ensuring that we have a satisfied clientele. I intend to do this through the very people who are within the Ministry of Finance and the Public Service,” she explained.
The relatively youthful but vastly experienced and highly qualified public servant is a graduate of the University of Technology (Accounts and Economics) with a Master of Business Administration from Nova South Eastern University, Miami Florida in the United States. Prior to her recent appointment as Financial Secretary, Mrs. Crooks served as head of the Financial Investigations Division, also within the Ministry of Finance.
Despite her relatively rapid rise to the civil head of the powerful Finance and the Public Service Ministry, Mrs. Crooks’ career path was not seamless, neither was her upward mobility without frustrating challenges.
With a rueful smile, but devoid of bitterness, Mrs. Crooks recollected that she understands the vicissitudes of life in the public service for those who are qualified, motivated and rearing to go but were handicapped by inexplicable challenges.
“I have started from the bottom, and I have reached to the top. I should probably say I have started at the bottom twice. I entered the public sector at a very junior level, as an auditor in the Income Tax Department, and I moved up through my work until in 1999 when there was the merger of the Revenue Departments to form the Tax Administration, Audit and Assessment Department (TAAD). I had applied for a number of positions, but was not selected even though my performance supported by evaluations indicated that I was among the top performers. As a matter of fact, I had received an award as one of the most outstanding performers and therefore, in my mind, if I was so outstanding then I should have been selected even for a first interview,” she recalled.
Her fortitude and determination to prove her worth paid off. “I decided that since I was not among those who were selected, I would move on to another Ministry and so I was granted a transfer to the Ministry of National Security, which was later merged with the Justice Ministry. There I had the opportunity to serve as Head of a team of Forensic Accountants in the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions.
“As time went by and just when I thought that I had lost my first love with the Ministry of Finance and Planning, there was a merger of Financial Crimes Unit and the Revenue Protection Division to form the Financial Investigations Division in the Ministry of Finance. As a result, I was reassigned to that Ministry again in the Taxpayer Audit and Assessment Department.
“Not only had I come full circle, but I was once again relegated to the very bottom of my career path, a position lower than where I had started. Although a little bit peeved, I relied on my earlier conditioning, my Christian convictions and my desire to serve my country and I was not going to be deterred. My intention, my passion was to serve my country and therefore I turned my lemons into lemonade and so I became the best Batcher,” she reflected.
It was a bitter pill to swallow for a top achiever with loads of institutional knowledge and experience to descend to the level of a Batcher, a relatively undemanding clerical position. She explained, “You would be given a batch of tax returns and your job was to ensure that you affix the right code, tie them with a string and ensure that the returns are batched with all the others and dispatched to the relevant area. I did all this while having a Masters in Business Administration and having prior leadership of a significant unit, but I decided that this was my country and I was not leaving the service.
“Many of my friends who were transferred with me decided to migrate, mostly to Canada, and they encouraged me to go along, but I have my family here. This is my country and I am committed to serve here. Although I may visit overseas, I don’t intend to make any other country my home, and so I focussed on being the best Batcher that I could be, making sure that I was at work early, leaving after 5:00pm, making sure that there would have been no question about my performance, regardless of what task I was assigned, because I intended to reach the top again.”
Her hard work, persistence and integrity inspired her supervisors to recommend that this worker should not be left to languish as a ‘batcher’ but should be more effectively deployed. As a result, she slowly moved up the ladder.
“I was moved to reconciling accounts, then I was later moved to manage a small case team, then I was subsequently moved to head a medium sized team, until I was asked to lead a large case team, which focussed on forensic accounting.
“Having gotten that opportunity, I was really excited, I was set to go. I had set up my team. In three days, I was asked to move from the Taxpayer Audit Assessment to the Inland Revenue Department, to work along with two Canadian Consultants who requested an understudy who knew the process inside out from batching of returns right to the policy level. I was selected and I got the opportunity to work at the Inland Revenue and to assist with the task of the restructuring of that Department.
“In that assignment, I was required to oversee the revenue inflows of all 29 collectorates and to see how best to restructure the operation, mostly focusing on the human resources to enhance the revenue and basically to increase outflows and I spent a good 18 months – 2 years on that assignment.
“The Consultants wrote an evaluation, which I could say was the best evaluation I had ever received. It basically said that I was one of those employees who was being under utilised and that I should be placed at the most senior level within the Inland Revenue Department. I actually pointed out to him that he would be putting me at risk because the most senior level would have been at the level of Commissioner …and that the Department already had a Commissioner.
Asked why that recommendation could put her at risk, Mrs. Crooks explained that, “Sometimes within the Civil Service, there are many persons who are pretty ambitious, but you have to have persons of confidence to work with you, to know that you are there to learn from them and not necessarily to take away their jobs.”
Reflecting on one of her major achievements prior to being promoted to the position of Financial Secretary, Mrs. Crooks recalled a special assignment given to her by the former Director General of the Tax Administration Department to initiate a revenue enhancement programme to close the revenue gap being experienced at that time. The revenue enhancement programme was given a target of 5 billion dollars, so I was given the opportunity to work along with a team led by Mrs. Karab Damder, Technical Advisor to the Director General of Tax Administration to lead a team of compliance officers and auditors to bring in the revenue.
“We were able to do it successfully. In fact, we exceeded the revenue by bringing in 8 billion dollars for that fiscal year. This achievement reinforced the view that I could play a more significant role within the Ministry itself. This move provided me the opportunity to work along with the technocrats as well as with the policy makers.”
Commenting on the major challenges facing the country at this time, the Financial Secretary pointed to the economic climate, both with respect to the global financial crises and the impact on all economies including Jamaica’s. “It has caused us to have to be more disciplined and creative, which is not necessarily a bad thing. It means then that we have to be creative not only in terms of raising revenue, but we have to exercise fiscal discipline and focus on the matter of expenditure, and how we itemiSe our priorities, and therefore though the economic climate is really a challenge, it is not what happens but how we respond to it, that will determine how you come out of the situation.
“Fiscal management has to be approached from two sides, not only from the side of expenditure but from the side of revenue. In my role as Financial Secretary, I have the responsibility to ensure that all Ministries, Departments and Agencies respect the budget process. So, one of my areas of focus, especially at this time when we are putting the supplementary figures together, will be to examine what are our priorities and to prioritize these priorities in line with our resources,” she emphasized.
Question: With an extraordinarily high public debt and the lingering fiscal deficit Jamaica is currently in a very challenging situation. This situation has now been compounded by the international financial crises. What are your thoughts on this daunting task? Are you frightened by this development or do you see it as a challenge?
“I am not frightened by it, nor am I daunted by it. Rather I see it as an opportunity to focus on some of the transformations that we need to make now as a public sector and in my mind, this situation will cause us to have to decide, willingly or unwillingly. We need to establish the optimal size of the public sector and how our human resources are deployed while ensuring that we have the right persons in the right job doing the right task with the right leaders to motivate them. So I see it as an opportunity.”
Passion and love for country inspired the highly motivated and top achiever Sharon Crooks to leave the lucrative private sector job as an auditor with tremendous potential for upward mobility for the Civil Service and she has never looked back, neither has she regretted the decision. A child of Independent Jamaica (born after August 6, 1962) Mrs Crooks has joined a strong cadre of men and women who are captains of industry and leaders in the public sector.
“I was motivated to enter the public sector really based on my passion and love for this country, Jamaica. I was in private sector in auditing in two prominent audit firms, but there was a desire to do service at a more national level, and therefore I sought the opportunity to serve within the public sector at an early age.”
The 4th of six siblings, young Sharon actually began her career as a teacher and today education’s loss is the public service’s gain. “I started out teaching, because when I went to University of Technology, I pursued Teacher Education and I focused on Accounting and Economics. As a matter of fact, my father (who himself was a teacher) had the philosophy that all three of us as girls, I am the 4th out of 6 children, should be trained teachers. He believes strongly in family, and so he thought that teaching would allow us, not only to contribute to society, but to focus on the family. So each of us had to become trained teachers in whatever field we desired.”
According to Mrs. Crooks, her focus on education and the early orientation to the teaching profession was a factor that she intends to deploy in the transformation of her Ministry. “The face of the pubic sector is changing. We would like to have a more modernised public sector, focused no longer on long service or tenure but on performance and productivity. To obtain efficiency and effectiveness we are going to need qualified people and not only qualified people, but qualified people with the right attitude.”
An ardent Christian, Mrs Crooks is enjoying 20 years of marriage to a career banker and is a mother of two young children, ages 11 and 8.