If the Simpson Miller administration is serious about tackling waste, corruption and nepotism in the country, we humbly suggest that it use the next post-Cabinet press briefing to put a freeze on motor vehicle purchases except for the Jamaica Defence Force, the Jamaica Fire Brigade and the health sector.
So far, Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller has put up a weak defence of the approximately $60 million to buy vehicles, SUVs mainly, for 20 ministers of government. Speaking in Montego Bay last Thursday, Simpson Miller said much of the SUV criticism will only serve to drive away good persons from offering themselves to the political process.
It was almost as if Simpson Miller was apologising for giving ministers the tools to work with. The Gavel does not share the view of many in the society that the ministers should not be given the vehicles. We believe the matter of the cost of the vehicles, irrespective of austerity, is a diversion from the real issue of the sick public-sector motor vehicle policy.
Surely, there is an argument to be made about whether US$35,000 is too much for vehicles for our managers, especially when public-sector workers are being asked to hold strain and taxpayers told to dig deeper into their pockets. The purchase sends the wrong signal about the Government's commitment to running a tight ship.
It, therefore, brings us to the question of the policy. Certainly, there is merit in the call for a review of the current comprehensive motor vehicle policy. We have a difficulty, for example, with the annual rate of depreciation being set at 20 per cent of the value of the vehicle. We also think it is counterproductive to sell vehicles after three or five years. That must be reviewed.
We note, for example, where Donovan Stanberry, the permanent secretary in the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, has purchased the 2006 Toyota Land Cruiser which was assigned to him for J$499,700. At the taxpayers' expense, Stanberry is now driving a spanking new 2012 Mercedes-Benz.
A few months ago when this newspaper highlighted the fact that the PS was driving a Benz, Stanberry said, "The practicality and economics of it show that there is no need for me to be driving a six-cylinder SUV around town, when a car can do the job."
Now, this is where the rubber hits the road and where the taxpayer get shafted. We wonder how on earth Stanberry is only now recognising that his job does not require a SUV.
And if it is the case that he is merely moving around town, why doesn't he use one of the 15 fleet vehicles at the ministry?
When he spoke to The Gleaner recently about the purchase of the Benz, Stanberry said he considered factors such as "reliability, longevity and the additional attraction of three years' free servicing, and, in fact, it is cheaper than the top-range SUVs around".
Note carefully, "the additional attraction of three years' free servicing". At present, the policy allows for public-sector employees to whom vehicles are assigned to purchase it after three years, providing they keep it on the system for the next two years.
The Gavel says not a wry word about Stanberry or any member of the public sector, especially the chief accounting officers. But it's patently clear that the current system is open to be manipulated by those who control power.
If the Cabinet chooses impotence as an option in this matter, we hope the Edmund Bartlett-chaired Public Administration and Appropriations Committee finds it possible to take a stand. We believe that the committee should review the public-sector motor vehicle policy. And in doing this work, the committee should be furnished with information regarding all vehicles purchased in the public sector in the past 10 years; their maintenance history and the sale costs, as well as the purchasers.
A good place to start in recasting the public-sector motor vehicle policy is to remove from all persons to whom motor vehicles were assigned the right of first choice to purchase the vehicles. In this regard, all vehicles being disposed must be auctioned in a transparent manner. This will reduce the temptation of illicit enrichment, corruption and the waste of public funds.
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