Sat | Dec 3, 2016

Gov’t must fear the people

Published:Monday | November 17, 2014 | 12:00 AM

The recent revelations of the combined multimillion-dollar phone bills of 11 Cabinet members and the absurd $180-million purchase by the board of the National Housing Trust of a failed tourist attraction demonstrate yet more examples of the wanton disregard for public funds, which has become commonplace for successive administrations.

As if the woeful mismanagement of public funds was not embarrassing enough, the persistent silence or common misstatements of Madam Prime Minister reaffirm the absence of any powerful political presence at the head of our Government. Unfortunately, this absence fosters the lack of accountability required of those elected and appointed to serve the people, breeds corruption and kills any notion of transparency, which are all necessary for good governance.

Our responsibility

Until we, the people, begin to demand credible, responsible and effective leadership, our elected and appointed officials will continue to mismanage public funds. The chronic culture of wasteful government expenditure will persist, and the growth promised by our prime minister will continue to elude us.

In her inaugural speech in January 2012, Madam Prime Minister said, "Our approach must be to right the wrongs and insist on accountability. Jamaicans want a more transparent and accountable government and should accept nothing less." At the core of transparency, when dealing with public funds, is the notion that the underlying realities of public expenditure should be made visible and intelligible to the public.

However, the production and distribution of information on issues of government spending by the Simpson Miller administration is both insufficient and inconsistent with the pronouncements she made when her government took office. Almost three years later, Jamaica is still grappling with the dilemma of fiscal mismanagement and a lack of transparency in government expenditure. This has largely retarded social development, undermined economic growth, discouraged foreign investments, and reduced the resources available for infrastructural development, public service and poverty-reduction programmes.

The failure of the Government to effectively channel public funds into social programmes and infrastructural development has contributed to Jamaica experiencing high unemployment, and in particular youth unemployment, in more than a decade. In so doing, the wanton disregard for the proper use of public funds perpetuates the cycle of poverty that has enslaved successive generations of Jamaicans over the last 50 years. And as the years roll by, apathy has descended upon an entire nation like a plague of old.

deepened distrust

The situation has deepened distrust in the Government and its activities, robbed us all of any expectation for improvements in service deliveries and undermined our trust in public institutions. Regrettably, abuse of public funds has become so endemic that taxpayer indifference has made Jamaicans complicit in government wrongdoing. Jamaica has become akin to a ship adrift with no captain insight, and accountability, transparency and good governance all thrown overboard.

From the youthfully exuberant spending of $180 million in the 2001 NetServ scandal, to the divine hiring of a $4-million private jet in 2014 to deport Abu Bakr to his homeland, the instances of systematic fiscal irresponsibility are numerous. The legacy of wanton disregard for public funds has continued unchecked.

Madam Prime Minister clearly has no interest in righting any wrongs, nor has she any desire to insist upon accountability by her ministers and other appointed officials. And as the perception of corruption permeates the Cabinet and several boardrooms, it is apparent that we, the people, have surrendered and accepted less than a transparent and accountable Government.

failed attempts

It is our complicity in the fiscal recklessness and mismanagement of public funds by successive governments that has occasioned the devastating effects of poverty, unemployment and lack of social and political growth in all sectors.

After decades of failed attempts to produce credible leaders, it falls to us, the people, to demand greater accountability of our elected and appointed officials. It falls to us to reject old habits of fiscal mismanagement and irresponsibility, which have hindered the growth of our nation.

Abuse of public funds reeks of corruption, which is the natural enemy of economic growth, and social and political development. Alan Moore once said, "People should not be afraid of their governments. Government should be afraid of their people." Until our Government starts to fear us and the power within our index fingers, this tale of waste will be retold for another 52 years to come.

n Alando N. Terrelonge is an attorney-at-law and JLP caretaker in the East Central St Catherine constituency. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and antlonge@gmail.com, or tweet @thelockedwonder.