ONE civil society advocacy group is questioning the Government's claims of transparency and accountability in the expenditure information which it furnished regarding public money spent on Kamina Johnson Smith's failed campaign for Commonwealth secretary general, and the delegation to the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Kigali, Rwanda, in July.
Executive director of Jamaica Accountability Meter Portal (JAMP) Jeanette A Calder has argued that the information provided by the Government "does not meet the threshold of transparency for the public who have covered the costs for the campaign. Citizens want to know what additional and un-budgeted expenses did they have to fund to support Mrs Johnson-Smith bid for a job as commonwealth secretary general. Despite the pledge to provide same, there is no such information in the official release".
Speaking with the Jamaica Observer on Tuesday, Calder pointed out that on June 6, in a radio interview, the minister of information Robert Morgan had indicated that "there are costs that have been incurred separate from her duties as the foreign affairs minister", and referencing a trip to Africa that was not about her regular duties said, "If she was going to be a successful candidate there was a need to engage with heads on the African continent."Calder said the minister also advised that the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM) was also supporting Johnson Smith through the communications unit.
Calder said the prime minister's release indicated that Minister Johnson Smith had made strategic use of the opportunities offered impending official engagements to carry out lobbying activities, but argued that, "if Jamaica is to be properly advised of what funds were spent on the campaign, the release cannot conflate those spent for planned ministerial duties. That is obfuscation". She contended that any "standard of accountability" would require that the Government disaggregate the $18.26 million it said was spent on Johnson Smith's air and ground travel, meals and accommodation, to allow for adequate public scrutiny so that concerned citizens can be satisfied with how their taxes were spent, and if value was received. "At a minimum, Jamaica turning 60 should mean more than transparency by edict," Calder said. In a release late Sunday, the OPM said Johnson Smith's campaign was efficiently conducted and utilised the existing channels and resources, including already established travel plans and engagements. "This significantly minimised additional and direct expenditure from the budget for campaign," said the release.Just over $43.9 million was spent in total, including $18.2 million on activities around Johnson Smith's candidacy, and $25.7 among the OPM, and the ministries of foreign affairs, and tourism, on delegation costs for attendance at CHOGM.
Earlier this week, Opposition spokesman on finance Julian Robinson insisted that Prime Minister Andrew Holness is still expected to answer the questions he, Robinson, tabled in Parliament several weeks ago, asking for specifics about spending on Johnson Smith's campaign and the delegation to CHOGM.