Wed | May 24, 2017

Continued (mis) use of public funds

Published:Thursday | June 11, 2015 | 6:00 AMJaevion Nelson, Contributor

It is rather frightening that we continue to allow successive governments and public entities to squander scarce financial resources in a country as ours where debt to gross domestic product is one of the highest globally, hundreds of thousands of people are living in poverty, and at least 30 per cent of children turn up for school hungry, among other things.

One can't help but wonder why is it that so few of us are outraged about the continued (mis)use of public funds on projects/initiatives without due diligence and for which the return on investment often appear improbable.

Why are we so silent and complacent despite our frustration with the current state of affairs? I was particularly struck by the lack of attention given to the scathing performance report on the National Housing Trust (NHT) which was published in April by Auditor General Pamela Monroe Ellis. This despite much outrage a few weeks before about the entity's investment in the Outameni attraction. The report reveal revealed, inter alia, that:

- $2.07 billion invested in Jamaica Lifestyle Village, Central Wastewater Treatment Company and Harmonisation Limited between 2004 to 2009 has yielded no return on the investments;

- Lands purchased for housing development are yet to be developed. This includes 28 parcels of land acquired for $2.27 billion 15 of which were acquired for $1.38 billion and would incur exorbitant development costs to construct houses;

- Of housing solutions for 15 parcels of land' which would possibly cause the cost of the housing solutions to be prohibitive;

- Six parcels of land acquired by the NHT for $342.6 million cannot be used for housing solutions unless the designation is changed from agricultural to residential;

- 3.03 acres (53 per cent) of the Florence Hall property in Trelawny, which was acquired for $14 million in March 1997 for housing development was used for the construction of the Trelawny Multipurpose Stadium.

 

HARDLY ANY OUTRAGE

The report also noted that the Auditor General's Department 'saw no evidence that NHT contemplated: the cash flow impact; the expected rate of return on the investments; the assessed benefit, and whether the investment decisions were in line with existing strategy of the Trust'.

The findings of the report should have caused quite a stir and be used as a catalyst for some meaningful reform across the public sector. However, despite this damning report, there was hardly outrage. I could hardly hear the 'Articulate Minority' and I can't recall hearing much from the Opposition and other public commentators.

An entity used $2 billion of our money on investments that hardly yielded any return and we didn't protest on social media, in the media and on the streets. We are seldom perturbed by these revelations. Everything is indeed a nine-day wonder. And we wonder why some of our leaders continue to insult us. Do we realise that these spending ultimately impact all of us? Can you imagine what $2 billion could have done? Let's think about it. What are some of the things that this money could have been used to do? Here are a few things $2 billion could do:

- Provide more housing solutions to young professionals and the poor.

- Expand PATH either by increasing the number of families as beneficiaries or increasing monthly allocation.

- Put more children could school feeding programmes.

- Provide potable water to more households or address some of the irrigation challenges farmers in the Breadbasket - St Elizabeth - face.

- Make schools and government buildings more accessible for people with disabilities.

- Improve conditions in many schools and provide them with more resources.

- Install more street lights in communities across the countryespecially in rural Jamaica.

- Provide MPs with more money through the Constituency Development Fund or even JEEP.

- Provide scholarships to 'needy students' at the secondary and tertiary level who are doing well academically.

- Provide young entrepreneurs with capital to build sustainable business enterprises.

I could think of more. Let us begin to think about how every dollar spent by our leaders affect us and could be used to improve our conditions and make our lives better. We cannot continue to be so callous about how public funds are being used. We need to demand that our MPs address these issues as they pander to popular ideals. We need to play our part in ensuring good governance. The onus is on us to make things better.

• Jaevion Nelson is a youth development, HIV and human rights advocate. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and jaevion@gmail.com.