Jamaican Government to spend more on communication
The Government appears to be ramping up its communication activities in the new fiscal year with the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM) set to get 41 per cent increase in its allocation for public relations activities.
Based on provisions in the 2015-2016 Estimates of Expenditure, the Government is proposing to spend $30.5 million within its Communication and Public Affairs Division, way above the $21.6 million which is slated to be spent by the end of this fiscal year, which closes on March 31. Just over $13 million was spent in this area two years ago.
The Communication and Public Affairs Division within the OPM was established to provide communications support to the office, as well as direction and guidance to the network of government communicators across ministries, departments and agencies.
"The unit will also monitor and evaluate media output with a view to identifying the information gaps, public concerns, and policy recommendations and response," a notation in the Estimates of Expenditure reads.
Huntley Meadley, director of communications in the OPM, said the increased provision for the division is due to the increase in its staff complement, which is necessary in order to get more information out of the Government to the people.
"We are starting to fill positions which were not filled," Meadley said.
He told The Gleaner that the OPM has employed a social media manager/web manager, a public relations/special projects manager, a news and public affairs manager, a social media officer and an information officer in order to better serve the public.
communicating with the public
"The Government has been accused of not communicating sufficiently with the people, and OPM, being at the centre of Government, gets the brunt of the criticisms," Meadley said.
"We have not been communicating in any serious way with our public through social media, simply because we did not have the people to actually update the information and provide responses," Meadley told The Gleaner.
Jamaica, under its four-year Extended Fund Facility with the International Monetary Fund has committed to reducing the wage bill to nine per cent of GDP by March 2017. The hiring of the communications workers comes against the backdrop of a move to reduce staff compliment in the public sector. In fact, following the permanent removal of 3,000 posts from the civil service in September 2012 and the elimination of an additional 3,000 posts in the wider public sector in early 2013, an additional 1,000 positions that became vacant due to natural attrition by end-2013 have not been filled. The Government has said there will be no net hiring of workers by the Government in any year during the programme period.
Meanwhile, Meadley said that with the increased expenditure, the provision of information to the public should "significantly increase", adding that the "total communication from the office, including the prime minister herself, will be improved. There are many elements to that. There is the direct interview by the prime minister, there is the preparation of material for the prime minister and there is the recording and dissemination of activities by the prime minister," he added.
Portia Simpson Miller is yet to do an extended interview with local media since her taking office in January 2012.
The Government is also spending $522 million on the Jamaica Information Service (JIS), up from $336.9 million last year. The JIS is the public information arm of the State which is charged with providing the public with information that will enhance public awareness and increase knowledge of the Government's policies and programmes. Some $315.6 million was spent on recurrent expenditure at the JIS two years ago.
The tourism ministry is proposing to spend $13.3 million on communications services, up from $11.5 million last year, while the finance ministry has been allocated $42.8 million for public relations, up from $39.4 million last year.