Holness says office telephone bill was $100,000 for 3 months, contrary to MP’s tweet
OPPOSITION Leader Andrew Holness has denied rumours circulating in the social media that telephone service to his office was cut after the bill was run up during last year's Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) leadership election.
He suggested that the rumour was being fed by "People's National Party mischief and propaganda".
"But, the people of Jamaica, I know, are smart enough to see through the hyprocrisy and lies... and they will be punished for it, I am sure," he told the press, following Wednesday's close of the 2014/15 Budget Debate at Gordon House.
The Jamaica Observer has learnt that the rumour was triggered by a Twitter comment from a Government backbencher, which suggested that the telephone service was cut off for a bill of over $1 million generated by the staff of the Opposition leader's office during last year's leadership campaign.
Holness said Wednesday that the sum tweeted was the total bill for Parliament's
40-odd telephone lines. He said his office was only responsible for $100,000 of the sum, which represented three-month's arrears that were not paid by Parliament.
The office is a commission of Parliament and its bills and staff are paid for by Parliament from its budget. The issue was first raised in the recent meetings of the Standing Finance Committee of the House of Representatives reviewing the 2014/15 estimates of expenditure.
Opposition member of Parliament Everald Warmington (South West St Catherine) questioned why the bill was not paid leading to the service being cut off. Leader of the House, Phillip Paulwell, promised to look into the matter. But, Minister of Finance and Planning Dr Peter Phillips said that the Opposition leader's office would have to bear the Government's tight expenditure policy like any other ministry, department or agency.
Holness said that he sees the office, situated at West King's House Road in Kingston and first introduced by former Prime Minister Bruce Golding, as a provision which helps him to do his job better, but that he does not depend on it to do his duties.
"I don't abuse whatever provisions are made. In fact, truth be told, most of the activities there are subsidised by my pocket and whatever funds we are able to raise," he explained.
"I reluctantly agreed to bringing it to public attention, because the Opposition should really be very limited in its cost on the public purse; that's my personal view," he said. "We note that our budget has been cut, too, but we are not arguing about that, because everybody faces budget cuts."
He said that the office's telephone service was cut for close to a month, and he did not complain about it.
"The issue came up in the Standing Finance Committee, and since then it still has not been paid, and that's several weeks now," he noted. The Observer understands that telecommunications company LIME resumed the service after realising that the premises housed the office.
Holness said that the $100,000 bill covers three months use of the three lines at his office which, he felt, was low usage for a public office. However, he said that the curious thing was that, although over $1 million was owed for the over 40 lines used by Parliament, some of which owed far in excess of his bills, the others were not affected.
"The mischief that I see members of the People's National Party creating (about it) is not only disturbing, but I think that it is beneath parliamentarians to do things like that: To suggest that the bill owed by the entire Parliament is really for the Office of the Leader of the Opposition, alone," Holness remarked.
He also acknowledged that, in terms of the allocations to his office for 2014/15, there was a cut by $2 million in the amount for compensation for staff. He admitted that he had lost two members of staff, but said that the cut made the office unable to employ replacements.