Talk isn't so cheap, but for sure, ignorance is expensive

Talk isn't so cheap, but for sure, ignorance is expensive

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

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WE are sure that, by now, the very proactive information minister would have marshalled her staff to ferret out every bit of information possible in order to provide the country a full explanation of the seemingly high telephone bills that ministers have been racking up.

We say seemingly, because we are not privy to information that would put the entire matter in its proper context and perspective. For example, is the figure of over $5 million low, average or too high given the work that ministers must do? How do they compare with last year's figures, after inflation has been accounted for? Moreover, how do they compare with other island governments and bureaucracy of a similar size?

Outside of such enlightening data, the figure appears big. All that is made worse by the fact that the Jamaican Government has just spent $4 million on a private jet to fly back Muslim Leader Abu Bakr to Trinidad and Tobago on grounds that he posed a terrorist threat.

To date, the National Security Minister Mr Peter Bunting has not satisfied us with a plausible explanation as to why $4 million was spent in circumstances which have not yet justified it.

It is possible that the figure spent on telephone calls is justified, and that Jamaica has benefited from the money spent. But until we know this, the country will be skeptical and wondering whether much of these calls were to girlfriends, babymothers, relatives, or party supporters.

It's quite disconcerting that there is such wide disparity between some ministries. That also begs for explanation because, while one cannot sensibly expect all ministries to incur the same phone bills, the cost must bear relation to the portfolio. One would, for instance, expect the security minister's bill to be higher than that of the energy minister because of the high crime rate that necessitates much work.

Of course, there is the issue of appearances. At a time of such severe austerity, Government cannot afford to appear to be spending the people's money in a cavalier manner. In other words, the Administration must lead by example, so that while it is calling on the country to hold strain, it must appear to be doing the same.

The Opposition spokesman on science, ICT & digital society development Dr Andrew Wheatley has a point in saying that "the raft of modern communication platforms and services that are available make these massive telephone bills that much more unacceptable".

It would bode well for the Government if it can show that it has exhausted all other means of cheaper communication before resorting to such apparent heavy reliance on phone calls. Otherwise, the unavoidable conclusion is that this is a government that does not care one hoot about the suffering of its people.

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