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Kingston, Jamaica, July 11, 2017:  The Caucus of Young Professionals affiliated to the People’s National Party – the Patriots – is calling for a comprehensive probe by the Auditor General, Mrs. Pamela Monroe Ellis   into the misuse of public funds and privileges by the Andrew Holness administration.  The young professionals have described Minister Shaw’s cellphone bill as an absolute atrocity committed by the Finance Minister on the Jamaican taxpayers.

The Patriots contend that a probe by the AG has become necessary because there is now clear and convincing evidence that members of the government have been using their status and privileges for personal gains.

Information obtained through the Access to Information (ATI) mechanism by the Patriots revealed that Finance Minister, Audley Shaw, who is tasked with steering the fiscal affairs of the country, has racked up telephones charges amounting to more than $8.3 million on his government issued Closed User Group (CUG) cell phone from April 2016 to March 2017.  In the month of October 2016, Minister Shaw’s telephone charges on the public purse were $4.22 million.

Appearing on a radio programme on Tuesday, July 11, 2017 Mr. Shaw claimed that he was unaware of his telephone expenses until it was brought to his attention after the granting of the ATI report, and subsequently paid for the personal charges, totaling $2.5 million.

This is, however laughable to suggest that he was unaware of the expenses as it is standard practice for anyone with CUG privilege to personally sign off on all charges before the balance due is settled with the telephone company.  The Patriots said its own investigation and knowledge of CUG facility substantiate the procedure that each CUG user is presented with a monthly bill, detailing charges for current usage with a specific request to differentiate the official calls from those of personal usage.

 The Patriots said the public funds, which have been blatantly misused, could have been utilised to bring additional resources to the police to fight crime, or buy additional medicine for our resource-challenged hospitals.

This irresponsible behaviour also fits into a scandalous pattern of waste and abuse of public funds by members of the Holness Administration, according to General Secretary of the Patriots, Omar Newell.   He said, “It is now clear that Ministers of Government are abusing their office by using government resources for personal benefit.”

It was only a few weeks ago that Minister Karl Samuda was found to have benefitted personally from the Mombasa dairy-feeding grass project intended to assist dairy farmers.  Further evidence of this pattern of abuse of state funds was uncovered in the recent OCG report on the de-busing programme, which caused the Contractor General to conclude, in part, that five Ministers of the Government had devised a “corruption enabling mechanism” to flout the procurement guidelines; and directed the allocations of funds using hand-picked contractors and “facilitators”.

At the beginning of the Sectoral Debate, it was revealed that the Minister of Youth and Culture, Oliver Grange was overseeing a “culture of extravagance” at the Ministry  where approximately $380 million for Jamaica’s Independence activities was corruptly allocated.  It was further alleged that a $15 million contract was given to the artistic director and paid out before the work was done.

The Auditor General should, therefore, exercise her constitutional authority to examine this emerging trend and protect the public purse from this avalanche of misuse and abuse.