Editorial | Rethink Jamaica 55 spend
Negative reactions to the planned expenditure of $200 million to stage the 2017 Independence-Emancipation celebrations give a good indication of the changing political and social climate that will no longer tolerate questionable spending decisions.
"Cabinet approved the $200 million to the Jamaica 55 Programme due to the nature and likely return on investment of the indicative legacy projects which we presented," Olivia Grange said in the House of Representatives recently.
The undeniable enthusiasm of the culture minister notwithstanding, there is growing demand for the justification of spending so much of taxpayers' money on this annual series of events.
For sure, a proud nation should applaud its heritage and find ways to celebrate its culture, but like a prudent householder who recognises that when times are hard, one has to forgo frills, Government must know when to cut back and prioritise projects on a national-needs basis.
It seems unfair that while taxpayers are always being asked to make sacrifices, the Government does not see the need to scale back and continues to spend as if it's business as usual. How much, we wonder, could Government save if it could match the efficiency of the private sector?
Years ago, this allocation may not have provoked any scepticism. The trouble today is that many families are struggling to keep afloat, and just making it from one day to the next is proving to be a formidable hump for some, including pensioners. Opposition Spokesman on Culture Lisa Hanna has questioned the expenditure and various aspects of the operations of the Jamaica Cultural Development Commission, and the country awaits the minister's answers in full.
However, this is not so much the political Opposition at work. As Jamaicans become more disenchanted with the political process and with the growing use of social media to vent, the idea of public engagement is at a very high level.
This extravagance, some argue, is obnoxious in the face of the belt-tightening that taxpayers are asked to do. That aside, there are all the pressing things that need to be done to improve the quality of life in various communities across the island. For example, Government is nowhere close to winning the war on environmental degradation or ensuring that the agencies employed to keep the country clean are doing a good job.
The aura of decay existing in much of the infrastructure of downtown Kingston will not be easily erased by placing buntings, draping walls, and sticking flags on poles in August.
Pensions, health services, education, transport and national security are facing ongoing funding deficits, and more is demanded from taxpayers each year to pay for the borrowings of previous years. Two hundred million dollars, or some part of it, could provide essential resources and equipment for some of our nation's schools.
But beyond what is obvious, what we are really calling on Government to address is the matter of its failure to be realistic and set priorities. The true cost of neglecting to do this is possibly greater than we can quantify.
It is time to rethink some of these feel-good programmes and focus on the country's most pressing needs. The country requires a more pragmatic approach to ensure that taxpayers' money is spent wisely and delivers good value.