'Parliamentary process can't be subverted'
Opposition insists questions on spend for Kamina's failed Commonwealth SG bid be answered in House
Jamaica's Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade Senator Kamina Johnson Smith (left) is seen with other delegates before a meeting of Commonwealth foreign ministers in Kigali.

THE Parliamentary Opposition is adamant that it wants answers to the specific questions that were asked of Prime Minister Andrew Holness in Parliament regarding expenditure on Kamina Johnson Smith's failed bid for the position of Commonwealth Secretary General in July.

Pointing to the release which the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM) issued on Sunday night, which gave an outline of how the Government spent $44 million on Johnson Smith's campaign, and the delegation which accompanied her to Kigali, Rwanda, for the run-off, Opposition spokesman Julian Robinson told the Jamaica Observer on Monday, "The parliamentary process can't be subverted by them sending out a release on Sunday night at eight or nine o'clock, when my questions were overdue. The questions were due to be answered two or three weeks ago. This doesn't substitute for answering the questions in Parliament in any way, shape or form, so we expect the questions to be answered. We are insisting that the questions that I have tabled in Parliament be answered and the commitment given by GoJ (Government of Jamaica) to honour them at the next sitting of Parliament be answered," Robinson insisted.

Among the questions Robinson put before Parliament for answering by Prime Minister Andrew Holness, which were not in the OPM's statement are: The cost for marketing, communications and public relations for the campaign; whether Finn Partners provided public relations, media relations, and thought leadership services for Jamaica's candidature for the post of Commonwealth Secretary General, and the duration of the contract; the amounts paid and due to the company, and source of funds for those payments; whether the Government received any financial or other support from any other government or non-Jamaican entity in connection with Johnson Smith's campaign, and the details of that support. There is also the question of the number of people, inclusive of the Government delegation, media and non-governmental organisations, who went to the Commonwealth Heads of Government (CHOGM) meeting.

Minister with responsibility for information Robert Morgan and Jamaica's candidate for the post of Commonwealth secretary general, Senator Kamina Johnson Smith during a media briefing in Kigali, Rwanda, in June.

According to the OPM release, a $43.9 million tab was racked up for the secretary general campaign and delegation costs associated with the CHOGM combined. Of the amount, $18.2 million was spent on air and ground transportation expenses, including COVID-19 tests, meals and accommodation. The other $25.7 million, the Government said, was "absorbed within relevant participating ministries – including the OPM, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the Ministry of Tourism.

Robinson also wants the companies that were party to the arrangements with Finn Partners to be revealed, as, he stressed, "even though it may be private individuals, it was done on behalf of a public official who was campaigning for this position".

The Opposition spokesman argued that the $25.7 million bill for the CHOGM delegation was excessive, and pointed out the absence of a detailed report on what objectives were achieved outside of the results of the election. "Within the context of all the issues affecting the Jamaican population — $25m for a delegation to a meeting, without any clearly stated objectives achieved, is excessive," he stated.

Robinson said, over the years, the practice in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs when individuals are vying for positions in international organisations, has been for the candidate to cover their own costs while the Government provides support through high commissions and embassies, who would lobby for, and support the candidate.

Robinson said this time it was different. "Obviously there was a departure in this particular instance and we believe the ministry needs to be clear about what its policy is, going forward in this regard," he said.

He added that the Opposition was not against the Government supporting candidates for positions, but there must be a clear policy on financing.

BY ALPHEA SUMNER Senior staff reporter saundersa@jamaicaobserver.com

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