Editorial | Relieve Ms Grange of Jamaica 55
Olivia Grange's attempt to delegitimise Lisa Hanna's allegations of a culture of extravagance at the Ministry of Culture was half-hearted, but she will take refuge in House Speaker Pearnel Charles' insistence that she go no further with her response to Parliament on Wednesday.
Minister Grange puffed a lot of hot air on peripheral issues such as the quibble over whether the spend on the 2016 Grand Gala was $62.5 million and not the $65 million as claimed by the opposition spokesman on culture. If only that were the core concern and source of outrage. But it is not.
If we were spellbound by Ms Grange's linguistic legerdemain, we would believe that Ms Hanna's exposÈ was merely the latest episode in the long-running spat between the two women who have presided over the Ministry of Culture for the last decade.
Ms Hanna, on Tuesday, painted Culture as a victim of whim, the most damning claim being that theatre director and impresario Trevor Nairne and the ministry may be in a tenuous web.
Prime Minister Andrew Holness' 14-month-old Government has already been mired in controversy with the $600-million bush-clearing and drain-cleaning programme that was arguably used as a vote-catching ploy ahead of the November 28 local government elections last year. Despite pressure on Prime Minister Holness to close the deficit of trust in his administration by making public the details of those contracts, he has refused to do so. We give him a second chance.
Mr Holness can restore the dwindling trust in his Government by not only insisting that Olivia Grange hand over to him all documentation on contracts related to the Jamaica 55 Independence celebrations, but by disclosing that information to the public.
Among the questions the prime minister should answer are:
- On what basis was Mr Nairne contracted to organise activities related to the Independence celebrations?
- Were Mr Nairne's services obtained under public tender, and if not, why?
- Even if Mr Nairne's compensation failed to command the scrutiny of contract watchdogs or did not breach procurement protocol, if there was personal gain, through subcontracting, to business interests of the said consultant, would that be in breach of the spirit of the law?
- If Mr Nairne is indeed a business partner of a senior adviser in the Ministry of Culture who has oversight of the Jamaica 55 celebrations, who is that adviser, and does the prime minister consider that relationship vulnerable to the perception, if not the reality, of nepotism? For if Ms Hanna's allegation that Mr Nairne had proposed a $2.5-billion expenditure on the Independence commemoration (Jamaica 50) in 2012 is true, it would not be unreasonable to infer that a business partner might be more responsive to an elastic budget.
To be clear, we do not seek to impugn the character of playwright Trevor Nairne or any ministry official, or impute corrupt motive, unless proof unfolds giving credence to such conclusions. On the contrary, our focus is on process, probity, and transparency. We only assert that there should be no question or doubt that taxpayer funds are being hoovered by political cronyism or governmental incompetence.
As he continues his investigation, we urge Mr Holness to staunch the political and perception bleeding by absorbing the organisation of Jamaica 55 directly under his nose: the Office of the Prime Minister. For if Ms Grange won't own the mess, who better to fix it than the Prime Minister?