Thu | Mar 21, 2019

PM trips for 2013 to exceed $50 million

Published:Thursday | January 2, 2014 | 12:00 AM
Simpson Miller

It now appears certain that the Government spent more than $50 million to send Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller and her team on foreign trips last year.

This is more than half the money ($99 million) the Government allocated to the Office of the Children's Advocate for recurrent expenditure for the entire fiscal year.

The exact travel spend is expected to be provided to Parliament in response to questions from Opposition Leader Andrew Holness before the end of this month, but already, The Gleaner has confirmed some $30 million in expenditure with more, much more, expected to be tallied.

Information received from the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM) through the Access to Information Act (ATI) confirmed a spend of just over $9 million for seven overseas trips between March and July.

In addition, the Government spent a further $20 million to send the prime minister and a team to China.

Simpson Miller also travelled to Japan and South Africa in trips costing multiple millions after The Gleaner received the ATI figures from the OPM.

The March to July trips included Simpson Miller leading delegations to Haiti for the Summit of Caribbean States in April before going to Ethiopia in May for the 50th Anniversary of the African Union Summit.

In Ethiopia, Simpson Miller joined world leaders including French President Francois Holland, Brazilian President Dilma Rouseff and United States Secretary of State, John Kerry, to commemorate the formation of the African Union 50 years ago.

On that African trip, Simpson Miller was accompanied by Dr Deborah Hickling, Director of Operations, Prime Minister's Support Unit and Permanent Secretary at the OPM, Onika Miller, with the OPM reporting that it cost taxpayers just over $5 million for the three.

There was no indication from the OPM as to the cost for security personnel and other support staff who accompanied the prime minister on this trip.

Simpson Miller and her team also travelled to Venezuela twice during the March to July period for the funeral of its leader Hugo Chavez and the inauguration of his replacement Nicolas Madura.

However, those trips appear not to have put a significant strain on the country's purse as OPM reports indicate that travel was not financed by the Jamaican Government.

OPM officials, led by Dr Carlton Davis, a senior adviser to the prime minister, have also defended the expenditure on the foreign trips.

According to Davis, the prime minister's overseas trips are warranted and necessary for Jamaica to pursue its "social economic or political objectives".

That is not being argued by Dr Ken Baugh, opposition spokesperson on foreign affairs, however he is questioning the method used by the OPM to determine which trips should be attended by the prime minister.

Baugh told The Gleaner, while overseas trips by the prime minister are essential, with the current austerity programme, a better choice needs to be made in terms of which trips are extremely meaningful.

He also lamented the administration's lack of communication on what is achieved on these trips.

"What the people need more than anything else is communication to reassure them that objectives are being achieved," said Baugh.

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