Mon | Aug 20, 2018

Talking at the government’s expense

Published:Wednesday | October 29, 2014 | 11:35 PM

Talking at

Ja's expense


What is our priority as a nation? How can the government continue to tell public sector workers to "hold strain" and endure years of wage freeze, when it all seem to be going to waste on not only chartered flights for deportation but also on loquacious ministers.

In a feature on the Prime Time News aired on Television Jamaica on Monday October 27, 2014, a news reporter highlighted the phone bills of some government ministers. The most outstanding was that of the junior minister in the Foreign Affairs Ministry, who amassed a bill in excess of one million dollars between the period August 2013 and July 2014: $410,000 or almost 50 per cent of that bill was accumulated in one month.

Indeed this junior minister is an expensive talker to the point where it values more than the monthly salary of many top executives in both the private and public sectors. His annual bill exceeds the annual gross salary of many in the public sector that offer essential services such as the police, nurses, military, teachers and the fire fighters.

But, should our vitriol, disgust and cry of shame be directed at the junior minister? The only qualms I have against him is the absence of conscience, for not exercising any restraint in the use of the government telephone that was assigned to him, thereby leading to its abuse. Then again, can you blame him? Whoever created the policy that governs the use of phones by government ministers is also unconscionable. In an era when the government should be exhibiting tight fiscal discipline, under a rigid IMF programme, I am befuddled as to how phone usage of its ministers is not among the targeted expenditures to be cut. We see critical ministries such as education, health and national security operating on a shoe-string budget and the contemplation of further cuts due to the inability to meet revenue targets. Despite this there is nothing in place that enforces a limit on how much is allocated for government ministers to talk!

What should obtain is that, where the government is responsible for covering the cost of a minister's phone usage, there should be a monthly limit. A cap should be placed on the phone usage, and whenever it reaches that amount at whatever time of the month, the phone is useless until the other month when it is refreshed.

Basil Harriott