Inadequate accountability for Kamina Johnson Smith's campaign spending
Kamina Johnson Smith

According to the Government's press release, taxpayers provided $18.2 million for Minister Kamina Johnson Smith's failed campaign to secure the Commonwealth secretary general position. Taxpayers also paid $25.7 million for delegates to attend the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Rwanda.

Additionally, about $16 million (US$99,000) was "secured by corporate Jamaica" to pay the leading public relations (PR) agency in London, Finn Partners, for public relations, media relations, and thought leadership services.

We are not satisfied that a "clean, transparent, principled campaign that met the standards of accountability" was achieved.

Jamaica is a signatory to the Open Government Partnership, a multilateral initiative that aims to secure concrete commitments from national and sub-national governments to promote open government, empower citizens, fight corruption, and harness new technologies to strengthen governance. According to the global Open Government Accountability Standards, accountability mechanisms require that public officials "give account for their actions, providing reasoned and evidence-based justifications for policy and programme decisions…To this end, sufficient information must be provided to permit ongoing public scrutiny of the actions of public bodies".

Using this standard, we are of the view that insufficient information has been provided to permit adequate public scrutiny of the campaign expenses. This raises several questions and concerns, including the following:

1) What exactly was the amount spent on the "usual outlays associated with the lobbying activities

for high-level candidatures" of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade?

2) There is no indication of whether the campaign expenditure exceeded the approved budgetary allocations.

We note that Information Minister Nesta Morgan told the public during an interview on Nationwide News Network on June 6, 2022 that the Office of the Prime Minister had provided a budget of $3 million to $4 million to spend on government communications. If spending exceeded approved budget line items, what variations were made from other budget lines, and what are the implications of these changes?

3) No dates were provided for the period of the expenditure. Is it from April 2022 when the campaign was launched in London or before April 2022 to include pre-launch planning expenditures?

4) O'Dwyer's reported in an article entitled 'Jamaica's foreign minister taps Finn Partners' that, "Johnson Smith has travelled to African Commonwealth nations, including Nigeria, Botswana, Tanzania, and Ghana, to press her bid that reportedly has backing from the UK and India."

Were these trips primarily for the campaign for which they provided services? Were the seven African countries, visited in 10 days, part of "already established travel plans and engagements?" If so, what foreign policy objective was being pursued and what was achieved? Who travelled with the minister? Were civil servants involved in the campaign or other people?

Further, Open Government Accountability Standards on preventing conflict of interest include declaration of interests. Here, the standards require that "public officials who occupy a position in which personal or private interests might impact upon official duties must be required by law to declare those interests…Declarations of interest must be made on taking up a post and at regular intervals thereafter". With this in mind, several concerns arise, such as:

1) No details have been provided about who paid for the contract with Finn Partners? Who is "corporate

Jamaica"? A group of companies in Jamaica or a single company?

2) No declaration of corporate Jamaica funding of the campaign was announced at the launch on April 2022 or during the campaign.

3) We are not aware of any public disclosure by the Government of corporate Jamaica funding PR services from Finn Partners before June 10, 2022 when O'Dwyer's reported the relationship.

4) According to the O'Dwyer's article, "Finn Partners has a three-month [US]$99,000 contract

with Johnson Smith that expires June 30."

5) Importantly, the Government itself, through its information minister, advised that it would be "a

slippery slope, dangerous and inappropriate" for the Government to involve itself with a "private contractual relationship between private companies". However, the principle and basis for disclosure when ministries, government departments and agencies receive gifts are outlined in the Integrity Commission Act, the Ministry of Finance and Planning Gift Policy (Circular No 17), and the campaign financing provisions of the Representation of the People's Act. These provisions underscore that it is in the public interest for the donors who funded the services of Finn Partners be identified.

In addition to inadequate accountability, we are of the view that this was not the best, most fiscally prudent use of taxpayers' money, given the many competing demands for scarce government funding for urgent matters facing Jamaica. This includes, but is not limited to:

*addressing the epidemic crime problem

*finding and assisting some of the over 30,000 missing schoolchildren

*helping students with the rising cost of back-to-school expenditures

*providing a liveable wage for our police officers, nurses, teachers, and other civil servants

Government must provide more details of spending and better particulars to justify the scale of expenditure on this failed campaign and a benchmark to achieve acceptable global standards of accountability. The Government must also use this experience to put in splace adequate rules to enable full disclosure of information and to ensure that there are budget limits for "lobbying activities for high-level candidatures".

The Advocates Network is an unincorporated, non-partisan alliance of individuals and organisations advocating for human rights and good governance to improve the socio-economic conditions of the people of Jamaica and to transform lives. Send comments to the Jamaica Observer or advocatesnet@gmail.com.

By ADVOCATES NETWORK

Now you can read the Jamaica Observer ePaper anytime, anywhere. The Jamaica Observer ePaper is available to you at home or at work, and is the same edition as the printed copy available at https://bit.ly/epaper-login

HOUSE RULES

  1. We welcome reader comments on the top stories of the day. Some comments may be republished on the website or in the newspaper; email addresses will not be published.
  2. Please understand that comments are moderated and it is not always possible to publish all that have been submitted. We will, however, try to publish comments that are representative of all received.
  3. We ask that comments are civil and free of libellous or hateful material. Also please stick to the topic under discussion.
  4. Please do not write in block capitals since this makes your comment hard to read.
  5. Please don't use the comments to advertise. However, our advertising department can be more than accommodating if emailed: advertising@jamaicaobserver.com.
  6. If readers wish to report offensive comments, suggest a correction or share a story then please email: community@jamaicaobserver.com.
  7. Lastly, read our Terms and Conditions and Privacy Policy