Friday, June 05, 2009

Saving Jamaica $1 at a time

Two years after the Cricket World Cup (CWC) was held in the Caribbean, at much expense to the member countries, we are learning of how financially devastating it has been to the economies. In fact, Jamaica is being requested to write off US$4 (J$356) million of debt, and by doing so sink the Jamaican people further into poverty.
Dennis Chung


In addition to this requested write-off Jamaica spent nearly US$100 million in upgrading infrastructure and preparing for the hosting of CWC. The total expenditure to the Jamaican people, with this write-off, would be US$104 million. At today's exchange rate we are talking about approximately J$9 billion.

Expense accountability
I was one who along with Ronnie Thwaites warned that CWC was not the best use of our resources, and he is correct in reminding the Jamaican people that a warning was sounded about the expenditure at the time.

The Gleaner's editorial of June 4th 2009 can be interpreted to explain the comments by Thwaites as nothing but chest-beating, which I find an unfortunate explanation, as the media should be the very ones concerned about accountability. It is unfortunate that the Gleaner does not seem to recognise the comments as a call for accountability. It is not whether the money had a benefit or not but was it the best use of the scarce resources, and would agree with the Gleaner that the JTI must tell us if it has followed through on its post-tournament programme.

Instead it seems as if Jamaicans are being asked to pay no attention to the money that could have gone to educating many youths, fighting crime etc. Maybe we should be happy to just accept it. Never mind that the Trelawny sporting complex has never been made use of, and has effectively become a monument of waste. While I do understand the need for improving our infrastructure (and little argument can be made about the spending on Sabina Park), I expect that the media and politicians like Thwaites should be those watching out for the Jamaican people.

Secondly, I am concerned that the report in the Gleaner stating that the Ministry of Finance representative said that the accounts were completed, is reported as being countered by the Auditor General - "However, Auditor General.said the final accounts were completed but not signed."

If this was said then it would be erroneous, as a signed copy of the auditor's report is essential for a set of accounts to be deemed complete. It is this signed report that verifies its accuracy. If it means not signed by the directors then it would still be the same as auditors should not sign accounts unless signed by directors. Can you imagine a public company submitting an unsigned year-end report to the stock exchange saying it is complete, even though not signed?

It is therefore very important that we ascertain whether the accounts have been signed off by the auditors, and the report qualified or unqualified, as it would be irresponsible for Jamaica to write off any debt on the basis of an incomplete set of financial statements, that is without getting verification of the accuracy by a signed auditor's report.

The greater point, though, is that if we are going to save Jamaica from further debt and waste it must be done $1 at a time. We cannot excuse comments by a politician about past waste as "chest-thumping", and then at the same time ask them to be more vocal about the people's business.

Receiving the truth
A pastor recently said to me that if one wants to always receive the truth then you must be a good receiver of the truth. So if we dismiss an attempt by a politician to bring accountability to past expenditures, then can we complain when they fail to do so in the future? And can we continue to say to them that they must speak to the people about what is right and wrong?

I have found that we love to criticise without proper research, our politicians, while at the same time expect them to always be true to us. If we learn nothing else from Obama it must be that you cannot seek unity or positive action with hostility. In many instances we have vilified our politicians incorrectly, and because of that some might feel frustrated about making any change. If they try to level with Jamaicans they are not believed as we look at all politicians as having a deceitful objective, which I have found to be untrue. Just like criminality it is a few who create havoc. Does that mean we should treat all Jamaicans as criminals?

If we are to save Jamaica, it must be by looking at every $1 we spend and accept every comment by any politician, on either side, as long as it adds any hope that we intend to hold each other accountable for our actions, past and present. In doing so we must be careful not to falsely accuse our public servants, or in this case not to throw aside their well-intentioned statements as "chest-thumping". We must encourage this sort of dialogue, and not be more turned on by rumours vilifying others. That as far as I am concerned is gossip, at whatever level it happens. If we continue to do so then Jamaica will soon end up with public servants who are really not serving Jamaica.

For years I have heard Thwaites from the back benches of Parliament calling for accountability for each dollar we spend, and ensuring that we properly go through every line on the budget to ensure that we get value for each $1. If we were doing this maybe as a country we would have $700 billion instead of $1.2 trillion in debt. Or put another way, maybe we would be paying out 25 cents of each dollar for debt servicing rather than 56 cents. Imagine how much good this would have done for our economy.

And let me hasten to add, lest I be accused of speaking in Thwaites' favour because of friendship, that I will support him and any other politician as long as they speak in the interest of Jamaica and Jamaicans. Equally, if he, and others, forget their duty to Jamaica I will criticise them.

So while we excuse comments about the need for accountability as "chest-thumping", Jamaica is J$9 billion in debt with no clear accountability as to how the money we are now being asked to write off was spent, as the accounts are not independently verified. And no doubt we will continue to add more and more expenditure to our debt without doing any proper assessment of what the value is for Jamaicans.

Let us not forget that the money spent on CWC was not just expenditure to be forgotten because it had a perceived value. Part of the analysis must be what value it had for Jamaica, and much of it would have had a positive value. But was it the best use of the funds? We should remember that J$9 billion is the equivalent of J$3,333 for every Jamaican, or put another way, approximately half of the recently imposed tax package, as a result of past expenditure that we did not do any cost-benefit analysis for.

If we are also going to be asked to write off an additional US$4 million, then we must (1) ask for properly audited accounts to be presented in support; and (2) properly assess the cost or benefit and let the Jamaican people know what they are being asked to bear.

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