Gordon Robinson, Contributor
Anyone foolishly believing the political silly season was over needed only watch the transport minister's grand parliamentary unveiling of JEEP Phase I to realise, like The Carpenters' oft-played wedding song, we've only just begun.
According to the minister, J$1.2 billion (to be spent in March 2012) has been found to fund Phase I. Well, Glory be! No, your eyes aren't deceiving you; your glasses aren't misting up; your cataracts haven't worsened. This money is to be spent in March 2012, not March, 3012. Also, you're no imbecile: this is the same March 2012 for which the putative finance minister has announced J$21.6 billion in Budget cuts, putting even the most sycophantic PNP financial analyst into a blue funk.
Let's begin with that exciting new job-creation project, JEEP. Where's this J$1.2 billion, that surely Peter would've loved seeing in his supplementary budget, to come from?
$731 million from the Jamaica Development Infrastructure Programme (JDIP), whose purpose was infrastructural development. This'll partly provide 1,790 jobs in the transport, works and housing ministry to clean gullies and drains; clear bush from main roads; repair sidewalks; install traffic signs; paint kerbs; patch potholes; and construct river-training structures.
In plain English, these 'jobs' are routine functions of these ministries for which normal budgetary funds apparently can't be found. So, having borrowed money from China allegedly to develop infrastructure, we then ask to use some for recurrent responsibilities. Can the polite Chinese decline? Perhaps not. But can they hope never to lend these mad spenders another dollar? Sure they can. But it won't go beyond delightful fantasy. We're a small but strategic part of their global plan, and it suits them for us to be further indebted. But, next time, converting Chinese loan funds from infrastructure to vote-buying won't be so easy. Or cheap.
$234 million from PetroCaribe projects. Seriously? The PetroCaribe pact allows Jamaica to divert 40 per cent of the cost of Venezuelan oil imports (as a long-term loan) into a PetroCaribe Development Fund (PDF), administered by the Development Bank of Jamaica (not the transport, works and housing ministry) specifically for use as project financing. Projects/disbursements must be approved by the PDF board. Examples of approved projects for 2011 include disbursements totalling $12.7 billion to Clarendon Alumina Refinery as Jamalco refinery working-capital support; to the Urban Development Corporation (UDC) for the Falmouth upgrade; and to Petrojam to finance oil imports.
which project qualifies
Exactly which of the JEEP projects qualify for a further disbursement of $234 million from this fund? Who has approved the disbursement? On what rationale? Please don't believe these funds come from Santa Claus. We must repay this loan. In 2010/11, PetroCaribe repayments amounted to US$28 million. In 2011-12 repayments are budgeted to be US$44 million. Who is going to pay for this cavalier diversion of international loan funds intended for criteria-specified projects?
$21 million from HEART Trust/NTA. Now, this MUST be the 'Guy Lombardo Show'! For those living in Siberia, NTA stands for National Training Agency. That's TRAINING. Not river training; not sidewalk training; PEOPLE training, our most important national priority. The 5,166 'jobs' rumoured to be created by this political three-card trick doesn't include a single new training programme for any person.
The NTA website heralds its mission as 'Graduates using skills to increase productivity and competitiveness of Jamaican enterprises'. Its vision is: 'A Jamaican workforce trained and certified to international standards stimulating employment-creating investment, contributing to improved productivity of individuals, enterprises and the nation.' The HEART Trust/NTA is a superb example of a government agency working towards the national good and not a source of funding for political purposes.
$45.1 million from the Ministry of Labour and Social Security. But, among the 5,166 'jobs' rumoured to be created are 750 'jobs' in the said labour and social security ministry, including in the Steps To Work programme and the Special Employment and Training Programme, which seems a normal part of that ministry's portfolio. Why remove these funds from that ministry; hand them to the transport minister to administer; and rename them 'JEEP' funds? Is the labour ministry's scope too narrow to permit the sort of political crash-programme assignments JEEP must deliver?
$150 million from the tourism ministry. One hundred 'jobs' are to be provided by JEEP to "clean up resort areas" - already provided for in the Tourism Enhancement Fund. Again, why take funds from one ministry and shuffle it to another? What's going on? Is this a clear sign that the political imperative that is JEEP must be seen as a new PNP initiative in time for the local government elections?
Please tell me this is more than the creation of a political slush fund to circumvent public-service spending rules to the detriment of the ministries forced to 'donate' these funds. Why concentrate so much national expenditure in the transport, works and housing ministry? Are we creating a second finance ministry and a Finance Minister II better able to coordinate political spending and to efficiently execute a more sophisticated "run wid it" policy?
mysterious JEEP project manager
It's interesting to note that 'jobs' to be 'created' by JEEP; funded and administered by Transport and Works; include 'jobs' in the portfolio areas of tourism, education, agriculture, labour and social security, and energy. Is this the Government's way of atoning for appointing too many ministers? Are these ministers now redundant? Are they to be JEEP beneficiaries? Is Lisa the mysterious 'female' project manager already identified (but whose identity, qualifications or expertise we apparently have no right to know) to head a burgeoning new bureaucracy already created within the works ministry to oversee JEEP? How will we pay for this expanded bureaucracy? Will it join Peter's 80 per cent?
In stark contrast to the wild, woolly JEEP spending, Finance Minister I, looking and playing the part of a Grimm fairy tale-style villain named Peter, Peter, Dream Eater, soberly presented allegedly unavoidable Budget cuts. As Finance Minister II announced planned 'additional' expenditure of $1.2 billion in March, Finance Minister I announced $21.6 billion in Budget cuts, including:
$18 million earmarked to purchase equipment for hospitals. Yes. HOSPITAL EQUIPMENT. If you begin to feel chest pains while reading this, call 119. On second thought, don't bother. Hospitals won't have the equipment to help you anyway. Amounts of $731 million can be diverted from JDIP to clean gullies and $234 from PetroCaribe to temporarily 'employ' God knows who, but we can't find $18 million to buy hospital equipment. Good grief!
$69.5 million from the HIV/AIDS Prevention Project because of "delays in the procurement process". There'll be no such delays in JEEP, as persons to be employed will be recommended, according to Finance Minister II, by "a broad cross section of persons", including MPs, church representatives, citizens' associations and "other civic groups in the communities". Who are these "other civic groups", Omar? PNP caucuses?
He went on: "Participants will be selected based on criteria agreed to by the inter-agency group, as well as by local groups." Agreed? Agreements have at least two parties. With whom will the inter-agency group agree? You? What exactly is the "inter-agency group"? What do you mean by "local groups"? Would these include the Shower Posse? Clansman? Stone Crusher? If not, WHO? Will you publish these mysterious "criteria" BEFORE using them to dole out crash-programme work? Of course not. There's no time for transparency. 'E' for 'Emergency', right?
$21.3-million cut from an Inter-American Development Bank (IDB)-funded school feeding programme. SCHOOL FEEDING, Peter? Honestly? You blame "implementation delay" for this revolting development. Not good enough. WHO DELAYED? Another of the 'essential 80 per cent'? What was delayed, causing children to go to school hungry? Why not use JDIP or PetroCaribe funds to start JESFP (Jamaica Emergency School Feeding Programme) instead?
$20.8 million from a labour ministry fund, under an IDB programme, to assist children with disabilities. Pardon me while I barf. Yet, $45.1 million is diverted from the same ministry to JEEP? Again, "procurement delays" are blamed. If so, somebody must account. Derrick Kellier, where are you? Did you insist these funds be restored in the next Budget? What've you done to prevent further "procurement delays"? Have you protested this vicious rape of your social security budget for cheap political gain?
$271 million from World Bank-funded projects for social protection, including the improvement of PATH. Government blithely cites "non-compliance and delays" for this cut, but why this non-compliance? Is it the "essential" 80 per cent that's been "non-compliant", Peter? Why can't we administer internationally granted funds to help our most vulnerable, but can find millions at a moment's notice to clean gullies?
$270 million from Education for the construction of a school in St Catherine; $51 million taken away from a primary school in Red Hills; $24 million from a USAID-funded basic education project; $38 million off a World Bank-funded early childhood development programme; $61.5 million from a UTech enhancement project; $28.3 million from a UWI project to improve Japanese Language Learning equipment.
The juxtaposition of the haste to find JEEP funds and to make excessive Budget cuts is, like Michael Jordan, unbelievaBULL. I don't want to hear the cuts aren't real money. If they don't represent real expenditure, why announce them as real Budget cuts? If the money wasn't going to be spent anyway, why not carry forward to next year's Budget?
Whose conscience can tolerate a $500-million cut from our education budget, and with it many long-term job prospects, while $1.2 billion is diverted from various sources for JEEP to spend in one month on short-term jobs? How many sheep will be riding in this JEEP? Where are the shepherds? Will they wake up; throw away green and orange T-shirts; and insist that, in our 50th year of Independence, national leaders act in the national interest instead of from narrow political motives?
Now, I've a JEEP job for our pollsters. First, if Finance Minister II won't publish these details on his ministry's website, locate names and addresses, if any, of these 5,166 JEEP beneficiaries, two years hence, produce and publish a poll telling us what percentage of them are living in improved conditions and what percentage in similar or worsened conditions. Juxtapose a comparison of our economy then and now. JEEP! BLEEP!
Peace and love.
Gordon Robinson is an attorney-at-law. Email feedback to email@example.com.