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'Vindictive' Government

Published:Wednesday | February 1, 2012 | 12:00 AM

Former Culture Minister Olivia Grange has accused the Government of "vindictiveness" and "rancour" in how it chose to raise questions about the planning and spending of $23 million on this year's upcoming Jamaica 50 Independence celebrations.

Grange's successor in the ministry, Lisa Hanna, yesterday announced that concerns about how the money was spent have sparked a request for a special audit of the expenditure by the Auditor General's Department.

But last night, Grange said that as far as she was aware, the funds spent by the secretariat were efficiently and effectively used.

Hanna said permanent secretary in the ministry, Robert Martin, requested an audit after it was discovered that the $23 million had already been spent on administrative expenses, salaries, a media launch and a fireworks display.

According to Hanna, an in-depth review of what was done under the Jamaica Labour Party administration has revealed that the Government's procurement procedures, in most instances, seemed to have been circumvented.

"Furthermore, the approval process for several payments did not follow the prescribed guidelines as per the Financial Administration and Audit Act," alleged Hanna, as she noted that the Jamaica 50 Secretariat reported directly to Grange.

Hanna said the secretariat had endorsed 138 projects that were already planned as calendar events from both the public and the private sectors.

She claimed that while the programme cited five categories of projects, "there was no explanation of the categories, the significance of each, the objectives to be attained or the budgetary allocation to fund them".

In addition, Hanna said there were 54 core events and 45 legacy projects cited in the programme at a total cost of $693.4 million based on estimates that were presented.

"The review also revealed 50 activities for Canada, 54 for the United States, and 42 for the United Kingdom," said Hanna.

Restructuring necessary

The minister charged that apart from $56 million received to date for the Jamaica 50 anniversary celebrations, there were no other funds identified to sufficiently implement the outlined list of activities.

"If the programme were not restructured, there was the real risk of it resulting in embarrassment to the Government and the people of Jamaica," said Hanna.

Against that background, Hanna said the decision was made to restructure the secretariat which has the responsibility for drafting and implementing the Jamaica 50 celebrations.

However, in a release last night, Grange said the Jamaica 50 programme was on the right track up to the time of her departure from office in December.

"I cannot be blamed if Miss Hanna and the new Government do not have the same vision of Jamaica 50 that I have, but I have always felt that Jamaica and Jamaicans deserve the best when it comes to sports and culture, especially because we have always been leaders in these fields," Grange said, noting that events scheduled for overseas were to be fully funded by diaspora organisations.

Hanna said Robert Bryan, who led Jamaica's participation in the region's hosting of the 2007 Cricket World Cup, has been appointed the new director of the Jamaica 50 Secretariat.

"I have done extensive work in preparation for this celebration, and so has the Secretariat and volunteers including dozens of artistes who contributed to our theme song, and we have laid a foundation on which I had expected the new Government to build and not to seek to tear down, although I recognise that the current economic situation might have been persuasive in the direction the government is now taking," she added.

"I would suggest, however, that the Government do so without the vindictiveness, rancour and partisan approach, especially in light of the need for national unity during this important milestone in the life of the nation."

The plans of the restructured programme are to be presented to the country shortly.

Grange chaired the planning committee with Phillip Henriques and Hugh Nash as the co-vice chairmen.