Government succumbs to bling culture
Gary Spaulding, Contributor
Three disconcerting reports that came to public attention last week highlighted the entrenched nature of the bling subculture in the psyche of many Jamaicans, including our politicians.
A report surfaced last week that the School Feeding Programme is starved of cash and languishing in a severely malnourished state.
Another pointed to billions of dollars being flushed down the drain on ill-planned projects carried out by the State-operated Urban Development Corporation (UDC), stretching back to the previous administration.
The third report referred to the Portia Simpson Miller administration's brazen decision to scrape a whopping $60 million out of the public coffers to secure high-end vehicles for its 'hard-working' ministers.
The reports surface against the backdrop of an empty till, as the net international reserves teeters on the edge of benchmark acceptability and a cash-strapped Government struggles to eke out a seemingly elusive deal with the International Monetary Fund to shore up the economy.
But then again, this is Jamaica.
Where else in the world but Jamaica at 50 would a government, devoid of funds, succumb to the urge to go on a spending spree for high-end motor vehicles when many of its children are deprived of the basic nutrients that enable them to learn? Perhaps the Government agrees with Mike Henry that ministers should never live "in squalor".
The tragic irony in all of this is the sanctimonious admonition by a member of the Portia Simpson Miller Cabinet - none other than the saccharine-toned minister of education, Ronald Thwaites, that "parents should not spend their resources all on bling" but must ensure that their children "get a little porridge in the mornings".
This comes as sound advice to parents, some of whom may not even be able to afford bling. Yet, the minister is silent on the Government's binge on bling at the expense of nutrients for his young students.
Also silent on the matter are the ministers with responsibility for children's affairs, Fenton Ferguson, and welfare Derrick Kellier, who are either dumb or mum on this issue.
Fascinatingly, it is these politicians who readily sound off to parents their folly in spending on dancehall sessions at the expense of school fees, lunch money or other basic necessities for their children's welfare.
Simpson Miller mouthpieces have groaned that the administration is unable to afford salary increases to public-sector workers; it is unable to fill much-needed vacancies in the public sector and has slashed health-care expenses left, right and centre, handicapping the efforts of doctors and nurses and other health-care workers. New wheels, however, have been spared from the chopping block.
Despite the administration's declared 'love' for children and their welfare; myriad pronouncements that education is the key, and acknowledgement that hunger pangs lead to a range of ailments that hinder learning, the Nutrition Products Ltd (NPL) continues to be prevented from carry out its core functions.
NPL complains that it is unable to meet the food and safety standards because it needs $38 million annually to do so. Yet, this is apparently of secondary importance to the administration.
So what if a few famished kids are malnourished?
One can't expect these hard-working politicians to travel in even a minimum of discomfort. Such is our love for children.
How can the NPL expect to carry out its function effectively if only three of the 46 trucks assigned to deliver milk and bullas to primary-school children are refrigerated, despite a requirement that they all have compartments which can cool milk products at temperatures of two to four degrees Celsius.
Among the vast array of deficiencies highlighted in the report are the high levels of damage and spoilage, between May 2010 and October 2011. The NPL was reportedly forced to dump 83,957 items, including more than 22,000 spoilt bullas and 33,000 pints of milk.
Then there is the free-for-all which has led to the haemorrhaging within the organisation, reportedly caused by unending management malpractice.
The auditor general's report highlighted former board members getting a total of nearly $500,000 for meetings at which they failed to show. I am sure that none of the children of these board members will suffer from the problems that have beset the NPL.
That the UDC incurred $26 million in cost overruns on 17 social-intervention programmes speaks volumes to the fiduciary faithfulness of the corporation.
It is left to be seen what will be done if, as is suggested, the NPL's failure to modernise its distribution system by adding new refrigerated trucks it had promised by March this year could seriously affect the School Feeding Programme.