Tue | Oct 23, 2018

Senators at odds over spending plans of UK grant

Published:Monday | May 1, 2017 | 12:00 AMJovan Johnson
Johnson Smith

Opposition Senators have accused the Government and some of its agencies, including the Planning Institute of Jamaica (PIOJ), of not being aggressive enough in ensuring that Jamaica makes use of its portion of a £300-million UK grant (J$54-billion) for improvements to physical infrastructure across some Caribbean countries.

The accusations came Friday after Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade Kamina Johnson Smith gave overdue answers to questions tabled by opposition senator Lambert Brown on whether Jamaica had taken steps to make use the money David Cameron, the UK prime minister in 2015, announced.

Jamaica has been allocated 18.8 per cent (J$10 billion) of the grant, which falls under the UK Caribbean Infrastructure Fund that will also benefit seven other territories. The UK Department for International Development and the Caribbean Development Bank are managing the fund, which is to cover projects over the period 2015-2020.

"Jamaica has submitted projects for consideration in keeping with the criteria and priorities established by the fund. These projects have been assessed for submission by the Ministry of Economic Growth and Job Creation, as well as the PIOJ, for alignment with the criteria established by the administrators of the fund," Johnson Smith said.

Her disclosure of a rate-of-return conditionality left some opposition members surprised. "The projects to benefit under the fund must meet certain criteria, including the demonstration of an economic rate of return of at least 12 per cent and strong evidence of being critical to driving economic development," she said.

"This £300 million is not soft loans, not tied aid," Brown reacted, quoting Cameron's speech at a joint sitting of Parliament where he announced the fund. "Am I to understand that the prime minister's words to this Parliament are not being adhered to by new conditions being inserted?"

Johnson Smith explained that "it would be quite clear" that Cameron did not announce all the administrative details of the fund and there was nothing "untoward" about the condition.

Brown, who irked the minister by pointing a finger at her while speaking, questioned the number and nature of the projects submitted and when they would come on stream.

Pointing to £35.5 million (J$643 million) that has been approved for the Essex Valley Irrigation Project, the foreign affairs minister asked that further questions be tabled for her to seek answers and criticised her counterparts for attacking civil servants.

"I'm deeply concerned that with the needs in this country that we are playing around with the approach we are taking," Brown said. He was joined by Mark Golding, leader of opposition business, who said: "It really appears a very haphazard approach is being taken to how to utilise these funds effectively. Not in the sense that due diligence isn't being done, but I'm just questioning whether a strategic approach has been taken."