Luxury rides - Government spends $190 million on motor vehicles for ministers
Prime Minister Andrew Holness' administration has purchased at least 18 high-end, high-maintenance motor vehicles at a cost of approximately $190 million, after his promise days after winning the 2016 general election to discontinue the practice of allowing former Cabinet ministers to purchase government vehicles assigned to them.
Holness, in a post on his page on the social-media site Facebook after his election victory, said the Government's motor vehicle policy was one of the issues he discussed when he met with the Cabinet Secretary and the permanent secretary in the Office of the Prime Minister shortly after the election.
According to Holness, the move to discontinue the procedure was part of the Jamaica Labour Party's (JLP) commitment to change how government operates.
PM's $16.7 MILLION BMW
However, information obtained by The Sunday Gleaner under the Access to Information Act (ATI) showed that among the luxury vehicles purchased by the current administration is the one assigned to the prime minister.
The 2017 740Li BMW, which is the official vehicle of Prime Minister Holness, is reported to cost $16.7 million. Education Minister Ruel Reid and Minister Clifford (Everald) Warmington are driving $10-million Toyota Land Cruisers (Prado). Pearnel Charles Jr is driving a $7.7-million Toyota Land Cruiser Prado.
It is unclear what provisions under the Government of Jamaica (GOJ) Comprehensive Motor Vehicle Policy for the Public Sector 2017 allow for vehicles to be assigned to senators Reid and Charles Jr, as well as Foreign Affairs Minister Kamina Johnson Smith.
According to the cover letter of the ATI response, signed by Audrey McKenzie for the financial secretary, it reads, inter alia: "Please note that Appendix 1 of the GOJ Revised Comprehensive Motor Vehicle Policy for the Public Sector 2017, list the assignees eligible for government-owned motor vehicles. Only members of parliament who are Cabinet ministers and the president of the Senate are provided with an assigned vehicle to carry out ministerial duties."
Toyota Land Cruiser appears to be the vehicle of choice for the Cabinet ministers, as among 22 vehicles purchased (four under the previous administration), 12 are Prados; four are Pajeros, and there is a $9.8-million 2017 Mercedes-Benz assigned to Attorney General Marlene Malahoo Forte.
When he first took office, Holness initially used the vehicle assigned to former prime ministers P.J. Patterson, Bruce Golding and Portia Simpson Miller. However, on at least two occasions the vehicle reportedly broke down, at one time when the prime minister was on his way to the funeral of Brian George in 2016.
The Sunday Gleaner last year reported that 16 former government ministers under the previous People's National Party administration had purchased the vehicles that had been assigned to them. Only four of the current ministers have used the vehicles previously assigned.
They include Dr Christopher Tufton, Shahine Robinson, Daryl Vaz, and Johnson Smith. State minister in the Ministry of Finance Fayval Williams has opted to use her own vehicle.
Tufton and Johnson Smith are assigned 2015 vehicles; Robinson a 2016 purchase, and Vaz a 2014 Mitsubishi Pajero.
In 2012, the Simpson Miller administration spent $60 million to provide some of its ministers with new high-end vehicles.
This, after the then PNP government allowed the outgoing JLP ministers to purchase vehicles that were assigned to them.
Forced to defend the purchases, the Simpson Miller administration said it purchased 20 vehicles for ministers at a cost of nearly US$694,000. Then information minister, Sandrea Falconer, said the purchases were necessary, as many ministers, on assuming office in January 2012, were not assigned official vehicles, as most were sold to outgoing ministers.
Among those who returned their vehicles after the PNP lost in 2016 were Lisa Hanna and junior minister Julian Robinson.
See article published July 2017: PM puts brake on vehicle sale to gov't ministers