Gary Spaulding, Senior Gleaner Writer
MPs spend on more than handouts
Documents obtained from the Constituency Development Fund (CDF) Programme Management Committee have revealed that, since January, the majority of parliamentarians have made education a primary focus of their assistance to constituents.
Of all 63 members of the current Parliament, first-time parliamentarian for Western Kingston, the Jamaica Labour Party's (JLP) Desmond McKenzie has been listed as spending the largest amount from the CDF - some $7.4 million - on educational programmes.
Data from the CDF unit have indicated that, up to September 14, McKenzie's education disbursement has amounted to around $2.5 million more than the $5.4 million that has been spent by another first-time parliamentarian, Damion Crawford. Crawford is the People's National Party (PNP) member of parliament (MP) for East Rural St Andrew.
McKenzie is followed by Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller, the MP for South West St Andrew, with $7 million. Dr Fenton Ferguson, the PNP MP for East St Thomas, rounds off the top three with a $6-million spend on education.
Crawford, who finishes in fourth place, has been placed under the public glare since finding himself in hot water with members of his constituency. The embattled MP has claimed he was being attacked for his determination to pump funds from his CDF into educational-assistance projects.
Angered by suggestions in the public domain that Crawford is the only parliamentarian focusing on education, some MPs have scoffed at any perception of martyrdom that has been ascribed to their dreadlocked colleague. They have sought answers from the CDF unit's records on education disbursements since the start of the year.
Same spend as crawford
The data highlight parliamentarians who have dug into their allocations, which total $15 million per year, to come up with almost the same amount as Crawford for educational assistance to their constituents since January.
These include MP for Western St Andrew, Anthony Hylton; Eastern Westmoreland MP, Luther Buchanan; MP for East Central St Andrew, Dr Peter Phillips; Dr Morais Guy, Central St Mary; and Central St Andrew MP Karl Samuda.
Edmund Bartlett, of East Central St James; Olivia Grange from Central St Catherine; Dr Andrew Wheatley (South Central St Catherine); Colin Fagan (South East St Catherine); Pearnel Charles (North Central Clarendon) and Peter Bunting (Central Manchester) are also major contributors to education, spending $4 million each.
Most of the other parliamentarians have spent more than half their approved allocation - in the region of $3 million - on education. Some MPs are however arguing that they have spent far more on education than is reflected in the CDF data.
Julian Robinson, who represents South East St Andrew and was listed as spending $3.1 million on education, is claiming he has spent more than twice what is reflected in the data from the CDF unit.
Robinson said a significant amount spent on specific programmes was not included in the data, and subsequently released to the media an amended list he said was from the CDF unit and reports his spend on education at $6.1 million.
"The fund does not include other educational items such as summer education initiatives by some MPs, which increases the allocations to much more than the amount of money reflected," he said.
"I hosted a summer reading camp where more than 1,000 students from eight communities throughout the constituency participated. I have also provided assistance for students in meeting their education-related fees at primary, high and tertiary levels."
However, when The Gleaner questioned Robinson further about the discrepancies between the figures included in the document he provided and that provided directly to The Gleaner by the CDF unit, he admitted that the funds identified in his document included projects to be brought before Parliament's CDF committee today.
Another first-time parliamentarian, the MP for North West Manchester, Mikael Phillips, also claimed he was spending far more on education than what was reported in the CDF unit's data.
"Isn't educational support when I assist two children - twins - being supported by a single mother who has to find between $300 and $400 daily for fares to travel from a rural community to school?" Phillips asked rhetorically. "How are the children eating, how can a family of four provide for this child outside of what Damion is doing?"
On the original CDF unit document, Phillips was listed as spending $2.5 million on education while, on the document provided by Robinson, he was listed as spending $5 million on education.