Convince us that it is not another serving of political pork

Friday, November 16, 2018

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The prime minister will pardon our skepticism, but until we see proof otherwise we can't accept his promise that the near $1-billion disaster-mitigation works programme, as he has described it, is not “bolo work”.

Readers with historical knowledge of politics in Jamaica will know that our apprehension is informed by the practices of successive administrations over many years. With Christmas approaching, the political party in power finds money to dole out to its supporters under the pretence that work is being done to “spruce up” the environment. So it was not uncommon to see many people on the streets whitewashing sidewalk curbs, cutting away foliage, and sweeping. Most times, there would be a few just sitting idly by, watching the work. They, of course, would be paid at the end of the project because that is the nature of the political pork barrel system that the parties encouraged.

We saw it spawned in the 1960s, grew in the 1970s as the now infamous 'Crash Work Programme', continued in the 1980s and, since then, given more 'legitimacy' as the Jamaica Emergency Employment Programme, followed by the “de-bushing programme”.

The sum total of all those is that taxpayers' dollars were used to maintain and purchase political support, and the country remained poorer for it, especially because there were no systems of accountability.

To be fair, the works outlined by Prime Minister Andrew Holness in this disaster-mitigation programme are indeed needed. Too many of the island's roads are run-down and potholed, drains need to be cleaned, and heavy waste is too common a sight across many communities.

Therefore, the Government, the prime minister said, has proposed that the allocation to each constituency be $6 million for bushing and drain cleaning, $5 million for patching of potholes, and $1 million for the general clean-up of urban towns and rural townships.

Mr Holness also announced that the $1-million allocation for general clean-up in each constituency is being provided by the Tourism Enhancement Fund, while the Government will finance the remainder.

He also said that the National Solid Waste Management Authority is being allocated $100 million to target the removal of bulky waste in townships across the country and to assist in implementing a beautification project in those areas.

Of course, the Members of Parliament, on both sides, are happy with this programme, as they will have a say in the number of people to be hired in their constituencies, thus giving them an opportunity to reinforce their status as benefactors.

The prime minister has told the country that the work will be measured and there must be an account of the funds spent. He also said that the Integrity Commission has been “invited to provide the requisite oversight to the implementation of the programme”.

That, we believe, is a good decision which, we hope, will bring some of amount of transparency and accountability to the programme. However, as we said before, we will remain doubtful until we receive credible evidence that the country is getting value for money.

The fact is that a programme such as this should not be implemented intermittently. It needs to be a sustained effort carried out by a competent agency.

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