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Sectoral Debate Contribution by Opposition Spokesperson on Youth and Culture, Lisa Hanna

Sectoral Debate Contribution by Opposition Spokesperson on Youth and Culture, Lisa Hanna

Mr. Speaker “A country is no different than running a household or a business. The main difference is that the household can’t print money when it’s needed and there is usually a limit to how much can be borrowed… So what an IMF agreement tells the world is that Jamaica is being fiscally responsible… so it is safe to lend us money.”

I wrote and posted these words regarding fiscal responsibility on my Facebook page shortly after the 2016 elections. I was trying to work out how the now notorious $1.5 million tax break could fit within that crucial national imperative. I, therefore, concluded:

“… Mr. Holness has said 120,000 people will pay $200,000 less in taxes per year that equals $24 billion in money being given up… where is it coming from? It can’t be from tax on imports, it can’t be from profit taxes…My guess is that it can only come back from GCT or a fuel tax…Always remember that nothing is ever FREE in Government, the money always has to come back from somewhere. Increases on GCT and fuel affects the poor…”

Of course, I was overjoyed to hear, the Prime Minister of Jamaica punctuate his 2017 budget speech with a firm commitment to fiscal discipline. He said “As an Independent country, we must be disciplined in managing our own fiscal affairs. The only way…..is to better manage the tax revenue we raise; plug the leaking revenues we don’t raise[while] growing the economy”

But, Mr. Speaker I’m forced to ask,does he believe his own words? If he does, he seems to be the only cabinet member believing. Despite my relatively few years in politics, I’ve noticed a “money-mek-fi-spend” philosophy has overtaken our governance structures. Some don’t seem able to distinguish between campaign funds and taxpayers’ resources. What might be just cavalier when spending campaign funds becomes otiose, uncaring, incongruous and just plain old fashioned dishonest as custodians of taxpayers money.

Take for example the over $440 million allocated to the Ministry of Culture this year by the GOJ for Emancipendence/Heritage Week Celebrations. This is over 100% more than last year’s budget of $191 million. Of that $440m, ONLY $60million has been ear-marked for the JCDC whose mandate, as prescribed in The Jamaica Cultural Development Commission ACT is to:

  • promote cultural programmes and activities in communities throughout the Island;
  • encourage and organise each year independence anniversary celebrations and other celebrations marking occasions of national interest etc

That miniscule $60 million allocation to the JCDC is stated expressly in the budget to be for “promotion of cultural activities” more specifically restricted in a liner note to “promote at the local and national level the unearthed talents in the performing and visual arts”. So, with a sleight-of-hand of which Anancy would be proud, FULLY 85% OF THE JCDC’s statutory mandate has been removed from that agency and it has been limited to conducting music and drama festivals for children island wide. All this despite the JCDC Act neither being amended nor repealed.

So, Mr. Speaker where has the rest of the $440m gone? The Budget has allocated that money to the Ministry of Culture to “assist in the promotion of events commemorating Independence Day including the Grand Gala, Emancipation Day and National Heritage Week” For those of you who might have missed it, there is an obscure note to the estimates of expenditure reserving $200 million of the $380 million remaining specifically for “Jamaica 55 Project.”

But Mr. Speaker, only you can help me to understand how, somehow, despite the presence of the JCDC with its specific statutory remit; despite a fully staffed, budgeted for Ministry; despite the Prime Minister’s commitment to fiscal responsibility, a separate creature called a “Jamaica 55 secretariat ”has been established by Minister Grange to do the JCDC’s job which is to plan and execute the festivities. Is this how you plug the leaks in government expenditure or is this how you ensure that it is leaked to the correct place?

I regret to report, Mr. Speaker, that this is not the first time. A pattern seems to be developing in this Ministry whereby established state agencies are bypassed in favour of personal consultants.

Mr. Speaker, an external consultant was contracted to, in the words of his proposal letter (a copy of which I have) “act as Artistic Director” for the 2016 Grand Gala. The letter is dated May 27, 2016 and by June 22 the contract was awarded lock stock and barrel. The consultant’s asking fee of $15 million dollars was adopted without negotiation. This fee was charged to design costumes, for choreography, team leadership “artistic direction” and to provide production assistants ALL of which could easily have been done by the JCDC at no cost.

My information is that the Ministry provided the production assistants promised by this Consultant, but not delivered and then arranged for the JCDC to pay an additional $2 million for these assistants. The end result was that $17 million was paid for expertise and services already available in the JCDC.

I have a copy of his contract. It provided for a contract period of June 16 to August 14, 2016 and for payment of 50% of the fee on signing; another 25% 7 days after signing and the balance “within 7 days after implementation and submission of FINAL report.” Yet I have in my right hand a document headed “INVOICE” dated July 15, 2016. It is a very ragged and unprofessional letter written to the JCDC demanding full payment of the $15 million and the due date on the Invoice is July 15, 2016 the same date as the date of the so-called “INVOICE”. This invoice fails to specifically describe any of the services or to itemize how the fee is chargeable vis a vis each service but simply repeats the vague description of services in the Proposal letter and demands full payment immediately. Payment was made without query or assessment of what work, if any, had been completed. This payment was made three weeks before the Grand Gala even took place. The FINAL COST of GRAND GALA 2016 $65 million.

This “artistic director” is the same consultant whose company, is owned 50/50 with a partner. The said partner had been engaged to head the Jamaica 50 Secretariat at the Ministry of Culture in 2011. When I took over the Ministry in 2012, I found a project proposal from this partner to spend $2.5 BILLION DOLLARS. I recall the former and current Minister’s public outrage when the plan to implement that proposal was foiled and discarded.

THIS CULTURE OF EXTRAVAGANCE HAD TO CHANGE and, by 2015, I was able to put a stop to this “money- mek-fi-spend’ culture that I inherited in 2012. We began as soon as I took office and gradually brought the Gala costs closer to sanity. In 2015, our policies had succeeded in reducing the Gala cost to $40 MILLION. We did this by using the State Agencies that were in place and dispensing with these expensive external consultants. Now, as soon as the government changes, this same consultant returns to this same Ministry in 2016 and is able to burst the budget pipe so big that the leak becomes a flood! In 2016, the Gala cost had already increased TO $65 MILLION.Is this the “fiscal responsibility” of which the Prime Minister spoke?

Mr. Speaker, I’m reliably informed that the artistic director’s business partner who prepared the Jamaica 50 $2.5 BILLION DOLLAR PROPOSAL is now the current Minister’s paid senior advisor whose responsibilities include the Jamaica 55 project. As such, perhaps it would cause discomfort had any part of the 2016 Grand Gala tender come in on his company’s letterhead so his business partner, the artistic director, was awarded a $15m contract in his personal capacity in a most non-transparent process. Now that one of the business partners controls “Jamaica 55″ imagine what kind of contract a bloated budget of over $380million can be accommodated for the artistic director? IS THIS HOW THE PRIME MINISTER DEFINES “FISCAL RESPONSIBILITY”?

Mr. Speaker why is Jamaica 55 a milestone year in any event? Didn’t the Prime Minister say that we must “be disciplined in managing our own fiscal affairs” and “better manage the tax revenue we raise”? Is this a national or a political priority?

If the invitation to the Jamaica 55 launch at Vale Royal tomorrow night (April 5, 2017) is anything to go by, this “milestone” year of independence will be a grand affair. Can I propose to the Prime Minister, that he begin with Jamaica 55 in exercising his newly found spiritual conversion to fiscal discipline? What’s the role of the Jamaica 55 secretariat? From where does it’s authority to spend taxpayers’ funds (or even advise on its spending) arise?” Are the Jamaica 55 funds being spent with a painstaking adherence to the Government Procurement Rules? What’s the purpose of a “Consultant” when the JCDC has a Board with a clear statutory remit? When will all this end? Should we all look forward to a “Jamaica 56” secretariat? Perhaps the role of the JCDC Board has been usurped because it’s clearly ineffective. No one with any management knowledge would expect the current board with its 31 members to be effective or efficient. Furthermore, it’s my understanding that this current board suffers from the same “money – mek – fi – spend” virus. They have not only increased board fees to themselves, but done so retroactively.

The Prime Minister’s credibility has already taken a blow having told people that the $1.5 million give back would be revenue neutral and having flip-flopped on his opposition to sourcing funds from the National Housing Trust

Ministry of Culture’s questionable actions exacerbate this credibility deficit and make a further mockery of the PM’s stated commitment to fiscal discipline.

If the PM is serious about better management of the tax revenue we raise, then he should start in the Ministry of Culture and with a tightening of the exclusions under 1.2.1 in the Procurement Guidelines Handbook which were intended to cover creative and artistic choice only, but have been stretched beyond reasonable limits to allow for the procurement of management and consultancy services without transparency.

Government has cut the budgets for CHASE and the Student Loan Bureau by $222 million yet insists on extracting “the last pound of flesh” from the pockets of most, if not all Jamaicans, especially the poorest of the poor. These people won’t be content to exchange their last pound of flesh to attend ad hoc Independence activities intended to make them feel good when they can’t pay their child’s “free school fee” or money to pay the increased property taxes.

Mr. Speaker, I would’ve loved to have devoted my limited time today presenting policy directives geared towards cultural development and youth opportunities. But the truth is, until we get rid of this “money-mek-fi-spend culture”, we will never have the resources to help our youth and hone our cultural talents. Plus all the speeches we make as politicians will be useless rhetoric.

Mr. Speaker, as elected MPs we have a responsibility for nation building. On this side we see nation building as investing in our institutions and in our human capital. It is clear from the intentional actions of this Government that wasteful extravagance of our taxpayers money is the order of the day and they more intent on benefiting a “few special friends.”

We saw it in when they appointed only one “special” Jamaican contractor as the subcontractor to the Chinese for all island infrastructural work under the JDIP programme, we saw it again when they appointed a few “special” contractors (in a non transparent manner) for the $800 million all island bushing programme, and we see it again here in the Ministry of Culture with this “special” “artistic director” and the $200 million Jamaica 55 secretariat.

Mr. Speaker Our citizens are watching us more closely than ever before and they can see through the smoke and mirrors that are used to intentionally obscure this perpetual “money-mek-fi-spen” culture that this administration seemingly can’t exist without.

The Prophet Protoje makes the popular link between politicians and crime and warns ALL of us:

“Was ’bout to be a politician to Then I coulda mek any decsion look

Maybe then I make a $100 million disappear, Then mi act like mi nuh care…

Now if you check di situation A Blood money run di nation Come take a look inna Jamaica Injustice in di place nuh

If wha you see nuh really faze you

Then you are the problem weh we face too

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.