Wast­ing our way to pros­per­ity

Jamaica Gleaner - - OPINION & COMMENTARY - Jae­vion Nel­son is a youth de­vel­op­ment, HIV and hu­man-rights ad­vo­cate. Email feed­back to col­umns@glean­erjm.com and jae­vion@gmail.com.

WE SE­RI­OUSLY need to re­ex­am­ine how the Gov­ern­ment spends and on what it spends our money if we want bet­ter for our­selves and our chil­dren. We can­not con­tinue to al­low them to do as they like with pub­lic funds and re­sign in the be­lief that ‘a jus so di ting set’. We have to pay at­ten­tion and de­mand more (and not just when it’s time for elec­tion).

Ev­ery so of­ten, gov­ern­ment rep­re­sen­ta­tives pa­tro­n­ise us with pleas for our un­der­stand­ing about the fi­nan­cial pru­dence that is re­quired so we can get out of the rut their reck­less­ness put us in. Iron­i­cally, the ex­tra ad­viser that they didn’t need is sit­ting in the front look­ing pleased like a puss as their boss preach about the im­por­tance of fi­nan­cial re­spon­si­bil­ity. By the time they’re done, they’re whisked away in the brand-new ex­pen­sive car, they didn’t have to buy.

One won­ders where we find mil­lions of dol­lars ev­ery year to waste. Can you imag­ine stu­dents are be­ing forced to learn with­out the ma­te­ri­als they need be­cause there is not enough money? Doc­tors and nurses are forced to per­form mir­a­cles with in­ad­e­quate re­sources ev­ery day. Mo­torists have to fork out money to fix their ve­hi­cles for which they have lost count of the num­ber of pot­holes they couldn’t avoid. Pros­e­cu­tors lack re­sources. Judges need more court­rooms be­cause we don’t have suf­fi­cient re­sources to build them.

FIND­ING MONEY

Suc­ces­sive gov­ern­ments are, how­ever, quite skil­ful in find­ing money to spend on every­thing but the crit­i­cal things that mat­ter to peo­ple like the health ser­vices.

Last Novem­ber, Caribbean Vul­ner­a­ble Com­mu­ni­ties Coali­tion and Ja­maica Civil So­ci­ety Fo­rum, with fund­ing from the Euro­pean Union, pub­lished re­search which high­lighted that ‘over the span of three fi­nan­cial years (2009-10 to 2011-12) the [au­di­tor gen­eral] AG’s re­ports tal­lied a to­tal of $6.292 bil­lion con­sti­tut­ing waste, losses, un­sup­ported pay­ments, etc.’

Sadly, it would ap­pear that the re­ports be­ing pub­lished about cor­rup­tion and waste in the pub­lic sec­tor and the ef­forts of en­ti­ties like the Na­tional In­tegrity Ac­tion lit­tle is chang­ing.

On Thurs­day, Septem­ber 14, 2017, this pa­per re­ported that in ad­di­tion to the $35.7 mil­lion that had been made avail­able in the 2017-2018 Sup­ple­men­tary (Bud­get) Es­ti­mates to fa­cil­i­tate the com­ple­tion of the ‘Fi­nan­cial Sec­tor Ad­just­ment Com­pany (FINSAC) re­port into the col­lapse of the fi­nan­cial sec­tor in the 1990s’, tax­pay­ers will have to fork out an ad­di­tional $22.7 mil­lion for a fur­ther ex­ten­sion of three months. In 2012, it was re­ported that around $65 mil­lion had been spent to un­der­take the en­quiry. More than $100 mil­lion later, we are yet to ‘know’ from the 2008 es­tab­lished com­mis­sion about the cir­cum­stances that led to the col­lapse of our fi­nan­cial in­sti­tu­tions in the 1990s that cost us around 40 per cent of GDP and the ex­tent to which the per­for­mance of the reg­u­la­tory en­ti­ties, fis­cal and mon­e­tary po­lices, do­mes­tic and ex­ter­nal fac­tors and the failed en­ti­ties man­age­ment prac­tices con­trib­uted to the col­lapse.

WAST­ING MIL­LIONS

Sim­i­larly, the Na­tional Wa­ter Com­mis­sion, which is al­ready wal­low­ing in debt, con­tin­ues to waste mil­lions of dol­lars be­cause of ‘poor scop­ing and de­lays in ex­e­cut­ing con­tracts [...] poor co­or­di­na­tion and in­ad­e­quate mon­i­tor­ing of projects.’ The Gleaner re­ported that a con­trac­tor was en­gaged to de­sign and build two waste­water treat­ment plants at a cost of US$4.27 mil­lion but had to pay an ad­di­tional US$726,594 be­cause of mod­i­fi­ca­tions that had to be done pur­suant to changes in law that pre­ceded the con­tract by about 29(!). In ad­di­tion, in 2012, an emer­gency con­tract was en­tered into to ‘ad­dress the un­san­i­tary pub­lichealth con­di­tion and over­flow of un­treated sew­er­age within the com­mu­ni­ties of Majesty Gar­den, Seav­iew Gar­dens, and River­ton City’.

How­ever, this emer­gency was seem­ingly not so ur­gent, since an 18-month ex­ten­sion had to be granted as the pro­ject would not have been com­pleted within the 24 months as sched­uled. By Au­gust 2013, 89 per cent of the $745 mil­lion was paid out, though ‘only 17 per cent of the phys­i­cal work com­pleted’. The cost for the work in­creased to $1.38 bil­lion.

And can you imag­ine that after al­ready spend­ing $450.8 mil­lion for the com­mis­sion of en­quiry into the West Kingston in­cur­sion, the Cab­i­net ap­proved around $23 mil­lion to make pay­ments to the West Kingston Vic­tim Com­pen­sa­tion Com­mit­tee, which needs a month ex­ten­sion to com­plete the re­port from the hear­ings that were re­ceived by the com­mis­sion be­tween 2014 and 2015. The en­quiry was to cost a max­i­mum of $335 mil­lion, Sen­a­tor Mark Gold­ing, who was jus­tice min­is­ter at the time, had said.

It’s par­tic­u­larly pre­pos­ter­ous and un­con­scionable that the Gov­ern­ment asks cit­i­zens to ac­cept that we have no money be­cause a sig­nif­i­cant por­tion of each dol­lar is used to re­pay debt while it is busy squan­der­ing tax­pay­ers’ money. Gov­ern­ment must do more to cut waste in the pub­lic sec­tor. We have to speak up about all of this as we are the ones who are af­fected.

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