Wed | Sep 28, 2022

Johnson Smith campaign finance secret

Analysts say J’cans have right to info as Gov’t maintains silence on funding for Commonwealth SG bid

Published:Sunday | June 5, 2022 | 12:12 AMErica Virtue - Senior Gleaner Writer
Ambassador Curtis Ward
Ambassador Curtis Ward
Dr Jermaine McCalpin
Dr Jermaine McCalpin
Senate Kamina Johnson Smith.
Senate Kamina Johnson Smith.
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Two months after Jamaica announced the candidature of Foreign Affairs Minister Kamina Johnson Smith for the post of Commonwealth secretary general, the country remains in the dark as to the cost and source of funding for the campaign. The Ministry...

Two months after Jamaica announced the candidature of Foreign Affairs Minister Kamina Johnson Smith for the post of Commonwealth secretary general, the country remains in the dark as to the cost and source of funding for the campaign.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade and the Government’s information unit have maintained radio silence on the matter, despite Sunday Gleaner questions submitted weeks ago.

A former Jamaican representative at the United Nations believes the Government’s failure to respond to the questions and lack of transparency could lead to speculation about financing for the campaign.

Curtis Ward, former ambassador and deputy permanent representative of Jamaica to the United Nations with special responsibility for Security Council affairs, said the job of Commonwealth secretary general is an important one so candidates should be held to account.

“One of the issues I have found with this Government is a lack of transparency, and that goes to the quality of governance. Oftentimes, the lack of transparency leads to corruption, and we have seen that far too many times in the past few years. Taxpayers have an unqualified right to know how Government spends their money, including how much is being spent on this campaign,” Ward told The Sunday Gleaner.

“Unless there is a political self-interest, a campaign by the Government, this, or any other, should be transparent, and the cost should be made available for public scrutiny. On the flip side, if there is political self-interest, public funds should not be used. The press should be persistent in pursuing and probing the facts at all times,” he added.

JAMAICANS HAVE A RIGHT TO KNOW

Ward had strong words on the Government’s silence on the issue.

“While I do not like to speculate on lack of transparency, it is easy to conclude that governments will not respond when something is afoot. It would be a shame and a disgrace for a Jamaican candidate to any international position to be bought and paid for by any foreign government. As the adage goes, ‘He who pays the piper, calls the tune’. That would be contrary to the proud traditions of Jamaicans’ achievements on the basis of merit,” he said.

On April 18, The Sunday Gleaner requested an interview with Senator Johnson Smith. Among the issues outlined to be discussed was the Commonwealth secretary general race. The interview request was declined, with a note that the minister was off the island. She returned to Jamaica, left at least twice, and returned since. There has also been no response to questions sent on May 6 and follow-up reminders up to May 31.

Johnson Smith has reportedly travelled to eight African countries, including Ghana, following the visit of Rwandan President Paul Kagame to Jamaica in April. Neither Ghana nor Rwanda has stated publicly who they are supporting as Johnson Smith challenges the incumbent, Baroness Patricia Scotland.

IRONY, CONTROVERSY

While Singapore, India, the United Kingdom, The Maldives, Belize, Trinidad and Tobago and Jamaica have ticked the Johnson Smith box of support for the position, no other public endorsements have been reported.

Political scientist Dr Jermaine McCalpin, who is chair of African and African American Studies at the New Jersey City University, said his support is with Johnson Smith’s candidacy.

“Well I think a distinction has to be made between Jamaica’s candidate and the Government of Jamaica’s candidate. I say this not to be facetious, but really to state that Jamaicans were not asked who should be candidate. We were given the Hon Kamina Johnson Smith as the candidate of choice. That said, we have a right to know about how her campaign is funded,” McCalpin told The Sunday Gleaner.

That right, he said, “is a protected entitlement. The Access to Information Act (ATI) of 2002 provides the right for Jamaicans to seek and obtain access to information from the Government. I do believe that Jamaicans should know what resources (and their sources) are being utilised as a good faith indication of the Government’s transparency and fidelity in adhering to accountability to its citizens.”

He added, “We know money is being spent, we do not know whose money and how this is being used. The Jamaican Government has a duty of transparency to indicate how resources are being allocated and the presumed/expected benefits or returns to Jamaica. We know there are related costs to running for secretary general of the 54-member organisation. They should tell us.”

That disclosure is critical, he said, as this campaign is not covered under existing campaign finance legislation; this is an election for an external office. A win for Johnson Smith, he suggested, would give more strident representation to the CARICOM bloc of the Commonwealth.

According to McCalpin, the campaign may be viewed as ironic, given that a Jamaican is seeking to lead an organisation whose head and monarchy it is seeking to distance itself from, although only 14 of the 54 Commonwealth countries have the Queen as head of state.

He suggested that Jamaica may get deeper details after the June 20-25 meeting in Kigali, Rwanda.

“If our foreign minister is successful, then the funding can be rationalised as value for money or getting our money’s worth,” he said.

Johnson Smith’s candidacy has ignited heated discussions in CARICOM, with some countries questioning the move.

The custom among the 54-nation body offers each office holder two terms.

Scotland, the Dominica-born Briton who currently holds the post, is viewed as Caribbean, although she was challenged by another Caribbean candidate, Sir Ronald Sanders, for the post the first time around. Sanders eventually withdrew from the race.

Scotland took office as the sixth Commonwealth secretary general in 2016. Her tenure, which was extended due to the COVID-19 pandemic, has been dogged by controversy around nepotism and cronyism, which she has denied. At least three countries withdrew from funding the office during her tenure.

FORFEITED TURN?

Those backing Johnson Smith describe her as being eminently qualified for the position. KaminaJohnsonSmith.com provides a narrative about her and a general overview of ideals for the post outlines her various roles and experiences.

In a two-part op-ed, Dr Lloyd Waller, professor of digital transformation policy and governance in the Department of Government at The University of the West Indies, Mona, supported Johnson Smith’s candidacy.

Writing as the executive director of Global Tourism Resilience and Crisis Management Centre, Waller stated that Johnson Smith would only be seeking election for a single term.

When contacted, he said the statement was his own theory. He suggested that the finance ministry, which is responsible for authorising travel by government officials, should be contacted re cost of the campaign. However, The Sunday Gleaner was also unsuccessful in receiving a response from the finance minister.

Ward was also asked about Africa’s apparent willingness to forfeit its turn if Johnson Smith wins and governs for two terms of four years each.

“I am not sure Africa will agree to more than one full term for Jamaica’s candidate. Some African countries may condition support on a commitment by Foreign Minister Kamina Johnson Smith to only serve one term. If such a commitment is given, she will have to stick by it,” he stated.

Kenyan diplomat, Dr Monica Juma, whose candidature was short-lived, said the Commonwealth represents 2.4 billion people and economies worth $13 trillion. She withdrew from the race for lack of support shortly after entering. Her entry was fast-forwarded by a term, as Africa’s turn would have come at the end of Scotland’s expected two-term tenure.

Sunday Gleaner efforts to contact Juma since an initial interview have been unsuccessful. Our newsroom has also been unable to reach Scotland.

The Commonwealth receives the lion’s share of funding from the UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, which have withheld funds from the group, which is currently chaired by UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

It is unlikely that a win for Scotland will restore funding, some have opined.

Last week, Robert Morgan, Minister without Portfolio in the Office of the Prime Minister with responsibility for Information, told The Sunday Gleaner, “unfortunately, responses to the questions you ask are not easily compiled so I am suggesting that the Jamaica Gleaner submits an ATI (Access To Information) request to the relevant ministry for fulsome answers to be provided.”

erica.virtue@gleanerjm.com