Wed | Dec 13, 2017

Jaevion Nelson | Wasting our way to prosperity

Published:Sunday | September 17, 2017 | 12:00 AM

We seriously need to re-examine how the Government spends and on what it spends our money if we want better for ourselves and our children. We cannot continue to allow them to do as they like with public funds and resign in the belief that 'a jus so di ting set'. We have to pay attention and demand more (and not just when it's time for election).

Every so often, government representatives patronise us with pleas for our understanding about the financial prudence that is required so we can get out of the rut their recklessness put us in. Ironically, the extra adviser that they didn't need is sitting in the front looking pleased like a puss as their boss preach about the importance of financial responsibility. By the time they're done, they're whisked away in the brand-new expensive car, they didn't have to buy.

One wonders where we find millions of dollars every year to waste. Can you imagine students are being forced to learn without the materials they need because there is not enough money? Doctors and nurses are forced to perform miracles with inadequate resources every day. Motorists have to fork out money to fix their vehicles for which they have lost count of the number of potholes they couldn't avoid. Prosecutors lack resources. Judges need more courtrooms because we don't have sufficient resources to build them.

 

Finding money

 

Successive governments are however quite skilful in finding money to spend on everything but the critical things that matter to people like the health services.

Last November, Caribbean Vulnerable Communities Coalition and Jamaica Civil Society Forum, with funding from the European Union, published research which highlighted that 'over the span of three financial years (2009-10 to 2011-12) the [auditor general] AG's reports tallied a total of $6.292 billion constituting waste, losses, unsupported payments, etc.'

Sadly, it would appear that the reports being published about corruption and waste in the public sector and the efforts of entities like the National Integrity Action little is changing.

On Thursday, September 14, 2017, this paper reported that in addition to the $35.7 million that had been made available in the 2017-2018 Supplementary (Budget) Estimates to facilitate the completion of the 'Financial Sector Adjustment Company (FINSAC) report into the collapse of the financial sector in the 1990s', taxpayers will have to fork out an additional $22.7 million for a further extension of three months. In 2012, it was reported that around $65 million had been spent to undertake the enquiry. More than $100 million later, we are yet to 'know' from the 2008 established commission about the circumstances that led to the collapse of our financial institutions in the 1990s that cost us around 40 per cent of GDP and the extent to which the performance of the regulatory entities, fiscal and monetary polices, domestic and external factors and the failed entities management practices contributed to the collapse.

 

Wasting millions

 

Similarly, the National Water Commission, which is already wallowing in debt, continues to waste millions of dollars because of 'poor scoping and delays in executing contracts [...] poor coordination and inadequate monitoring of projects.' The Gleaner reported that a contractor was engaged to design and build two wastewater treatment plants at a cost of US$4.27 million but had to pay an additional US$726,594 because of modifications that had to be done pursuant to changes in law that preceded the contract by about 29(!). In addition, in 2012, an emergency contract was entered into to 'address the unsanitary public-health condition and overflow of untreated sewerage within the communities of Majesty Garden, Seaview Gardens, and Riverton City'.

However, this emergency was seemingly not so urgent, since an 18-month extension had to be granted as the project would not have been completed within the 24 months as scheduled. By August 2013, 89 per cent of the $745 million was paid out, though 'only 17 per cent of the physical work completed'. The cost for the work increased to $1.38 billion.

And can you imagine that after already spending $450.8 million for the commission of enquiry into the West Kingston incursion, the Cabinet approved around $23 million to make payments to the West Kingston Victim Compensation Committee, which needs a month extension to complete the report from the hearings that were received by the commission between 2014 and 2015. The enquiry was to cost a maximum of $335 million, Senator Mark Golding, who was justice minister at the time, had said.

It's particularly preposterous and unconscionable that the Government asks citizens to accept that we have no money because a significant portion of each dollar is used to repay debt while it is busy squandering taxpayers' money. Government must do more to cut waste in the public sector. We have to speak up about all of this as we are the ones who are affected.

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