18 Feb PNP demands halt on $700M spend for Universal Service Fund office
The Opposition, People’s National Party is calling for Prime Minister Andrew Holness to intervene and stop the Universal Service Fund Ltd from spending Seven Hundred Million Dollars ($700M) over two years from the Universal Service Fund to purchase property to house its corporate office.
Opposition Spokesman on Information and the Knowledge Economy, Julian Robinson says “The Universal Service Fund was established to provide access to the Internet and the digital economy for all Jamaicans. There are people in many communities across the island who still do not yet have access, and so spending $700M on corporate offices is an unconscionable misuse of funds that is inconsistent with the mandate of the organisation.”
By its own admission, the USF’s corporate office building project would represent the Fund’s second largest capital investment of all projects listed in the organization’s budget for 2017/2018. This information was contained In the Jamaica Public Bodies document tabled in Parliament last Thursday by the Government.
The USF was created in 2006, and is financed through a tax on incoming phone calls to Jamaica. The Fund has revenues of approximately $1.4 billion annually, and is mandated to spend those ensuring that all Jamaicans have access to the internet and the digital economy.
Robinson says “There is absolutely no justification for spending this large sum of money on a corporate office when there are so many Jamaicans who have yet to benefit from services offered by the USF. That money could build out over 200 new community access points across the country or provide tablets to an additional 15,000 students.”
According to the Jamaica Public Bodies, the USF currently has a staff complement of 19 employees but this is projected to grow to 29 in the next financial year. Robinson says “Even with the projected increase in staff, this expenditure represents a betrayal of public trust and the Government should reconsider this decision carefully.”
“As we move further into the digital century, our focus as a nation should be spent preparing the Jamaican people to participate fully in the new global economy, and not on one single concrete and steel building,” Robinson added.