Sat | Aug 18, 2018

Gordon Robinson | Old BC and Haemorrhoid butt in

Published:Tuesday | June 12, 2018 | 12:00 AM
Delano Seiveright (right), senior communications strategist in the Ministry of Tourism, shares the spotlight with Tourism Minister Edmund Bartlett (second left), holding his Worldwide Tourism Minister of the Year Award, following its presentation before an international audience at the ITB Global Tourism Tradeshow in Berlin, Germany. He is flanked by Donovan White (left), director of tourism, and Keisha Kal Witter, Jamaica's chargé d'affaires to Germany. File

It was only a matter of time before The Old Ball and Chain insisted on butting in again. In a rare moment away from Home & Garden TV (HGTV), she was appalled by a news item about a 'senior communications strategist' costing $9 million in travel expenses over 15 months. Having just finished struggling with the monthly family budget, she experienced what my sainted grandmother would've called a French fit. Why French? I dunno. Maybe it's done with the mouth open.

Whatever! She pushed me away:

Old BC: It's time we disqualify all except good old time housewives from Parliament. Every housewife knows we can't spend more than what's in the bank account. More important, she knows how to prioritise spending the little that's available. She can't talk to Joe for hours on the phone unless the rent and food bill are already paid. She must pay children's school fees before she can travel or buy a new car. She doesn't want anybody in the home smelling bad, so pays the water bill before buying a new wig. She often buys sardines instead of chicken.

Old Grey Balls doesn't get it! We're a poor country. We must spend the little that's available on essentials. I'd love to have staff to cook, clean, garden and drive me in a new air-conditioned car (and wait for me for hours with air conditioning running). But I can't afford it, so I do it all myself. You think Old GB is any help? His contribution is to complain if he doesn't get his fried chicken every Monday.

I don't have the luxury afforded to government ministers to spend without worrying where the money comes from and safe from personal consequences. I don't qualify to be a nine-day media wonder. My consequences remain with me always.

It reminds me of one of Haemorrhoid's shaggy-dog tales from long ago:

For his birthday, little Johnny asked for a 10-speed bicycle. His father said, "Son, we'd give you one, but the mortgage is $289,000 and your mother just lost her job. We simply can't afford it."

The next day, Daddy saw little Johnny heading out the front door with a suitcase. He asked, "Son, where are you going?"

Little Johnny replied, "I was walking past your room last night and heard you telling mom you were pulling out. Then I heard her tell you to wait because she was coming, too. I'll be damned if I'm staying here by myself with a $289,000 mortgage and no flippin' bike."

 

Poor Strategic Thinker

 

What Old BC doesn't get is that the senior communications strategist with an Around the World in Eighty Days work ethic didn't appoint himself or self-approve the travel expenditure. He did expose himself as a poor strategic thinker during a CVM TV interview when he relied on improved tourism statistics to justify the humongous travel expense. He sounded as if he was exclusively responsible for Jamaica's tourism successes. How come we haven't fired the minister, the permanent secretary, ministry staff, and the Jamaica Tourist Board and relied only on him?

The problem lies with Little Johnny Strategist's 'father' who, having zero personal liability for Jamaica's 'mortgage', won't say "no". The entire fiasco highlights the brainless way our Constitution allows ministers to spend taxpayers' money at the stroke of a pen with zero supervision/accountability.

I can empathise with the strategist.

Circa 1999, against Old BC's advice, I accepted appointment to head a statutory board. My stubborn refusal to accept any perks or to travel (technocrats were sent on every overseas mission) didn't protect me from a politically motivated and industry-driven furore over my small basic salary. I was vilified in all media.

Finally, I realised the lack of transparency in my original appointment automatically encouraged suspicion. Twenty years later, we still need radical constitutional overhaul, including more transparency in appointments. Standardised emoluments and job descriptions should also be the norm.

Peace and love.

- Gordon Robinson is an attorney-at-law. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.