Spokesperson on Information, Youth and Culture Lisa Hanna, had some shocking revelations to share at her sectoral presentation Tuesday as she exposed the reckless and excessive spending in the Olivia 'Babsy' Grange-led ministry.
Hanna ripped apart the culture of extravagance at the Culture Ministry and opened what can only be described as a huge can of worms as she questioned nepotism at the ministry, the function of the JCDC and, quite interestingly, the necessity of a Jamaica 55 Secretariat, among other things.
Sections of Hanna's presentation in Parliament can be read below:
"...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 per cent 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, fully 85 per cent 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 right 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) to "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 of Culture 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 per cent of the fee on signing; another 25 per cent seven days after signing and the balance "within 7 days after implementation and submission of final report."
Yet I have right here 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. 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 Jamaica50 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. 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 down closer to sanity. In 2015, our policies had succeeded in reducing the gala cost to $40million. 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 $2.5billion proposal is now the current minister's paid senior advisor whose responsibilities include the Jamaica 55 project.
As such, perhaps it would cause some 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" project imagine what kind of contract a bloated budget of over $380 million 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 (Wednesday, April 5) 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 its authority to spend taxpayers' funds (or even advise on its spending) arise?
Are the Jamaica 55 funds being spent painstakingly to the adherence of 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? Are going to see a "Jamaica 56" secretariat next year? Perhaps the role of the JCDC Board has been usurped. 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.
Blow to prime minister's credibility
Prime Minister, your 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 your opposition to sourcing funds from the NHT.
The 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 people are expecting to extract "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 are 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, we saw it again when they appointed a few "special" contractors 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 do without.