Mon | Aug 21, 2017

Editorial | Of equity and pork

Published:Tuesday | May 24, 2016 | 5:00 AM

Considered in the context of fairness and equity, the Opposition party has more than prima facie cause to complain about the Government's allocation of money for constituency work projects during yesterday's Labour Day activities. Constituencies represented by the governing Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) got the lion's share.

But this issue merely picks at a recurring sepsis on Jamaica's body politic - the matter of how we share and administer the country's scarce resources - which, this newspaper continues to insist, requires treatment more radical than occasional dabs of soothing tincture, as is now being attempted. It demands an end to the politics of patronage and of parliamentarians and parish councillors expropriating the jobs of bureaucrats and being allowed to dive into the national coffers to grab, and directly spend, taxpayers' money.

The immediate matter has to do with what, by and large, is intended to be voluntary efforts, on Labour Day, to enhance communities, with residents and outside supporters taking on projects, from cleaning drains to repairing schools and hospitals. Politicians like to be seen to be engaged in such projects, hoping they can transform the optics of participation into votes at elections. But as too often is the case in Jamaica, parliamentarians whose party forms the Government tend to receive state resources to bolster whatever they or their constituents muster privately.

That appears to have been the case again this year, under a community clean-up programme on which the Tourism Product Development Company (TPDCo) was to spend J$54.65 million in the island's 63 constituencies. Thirty-two of those ridings are represented by the JLP and 31 by the People's National Party (PNP). However, governing party MPs were allocated $35.65 million, or more than 65 per cent of the money. In other words, $19 million was to be spent in their constituencies represented by the PNP.

In the face of the complaints, the Government said that the intention, really, is for TPDCo, during the fiscal year, to spend J$4 million in each constituency, so the Labour Day expenditure is a sort of advance, to be deducted from future allocations. To many people, this sounds a late explanation cobbled to cover behaviour that flew in the face of Prime Minister Andrew Holness' promise to act on a voter's exhortation to "do the right thing".

CONSTITUENCY DEVELOPMENT FUND

The "right thing" includes accelerating the eradication of the idea of the state treasury as a trough from which politicians can preside over the distribution of pork and allowed to speak about it as though it was of their private and personal rendering. No pork barrel cauldron is as offensively maintained and delved into than that bipartisanly guarded scheme, the Constituency Development Fund (CDF), which is effectively under the control of MPs and from which they can cause money to be expended in the pursuance of patronage.

Maybe in the face of the emerging TPDCo plan, we ought not to be surprised, despite Mr Holness' promises of change, that the curse of the of the CDF has expanded rather than retreated. Despite Jamaica's fiscal challenges, the CDF budget this fiscal year increased by 31 per cent to J$1.338 billion, allowing each MP to effectively bypass the state bureaucracy in spending up to J$20 million.

That, in our book, is not doing "the right thing".