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'Nothing spectacular about Portia's $50 million travel bill'

Published:Friday | January 3, 2014 | 12:00 AM
Dennis Chung
Dennis Meadows
Portia Simpson Miller

Gary Spaulding, Senior Gleaner Writer

Although the numbers appear to be abnormally high in some quarters, in the context of the stubborn financial crunch bedevilling the Government, many Jamaican taxpayers are of the view that there is nothing spectacular about Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller’s overseas travel costs.

For them, it is premature to assess the yields from the overseas visits by Simpson Miller that have cost them in the region of $50 million in 2013.

They are not so opposed, they say, to Simpson Miller dipping repeatedly into the national Treasury to finance her travelling expenditures, ostensibly in search of new investments to bolster a feeble economy, as they do to her continued silence in Jamaica.

“It is inevitable in this global environment that prime ministers and ministers travel, and when they do, it is unavoidable that they have to carry personnel with them,” asserted economist Dennis Chung.

He stressed, however, that it was also critical, for accountability, that the media examine the costs associated with the trips.

“What we need to be careful of is that we do not prejudge whether it is useful without the benefit of information, and I would give the prime minister the benefit of the doubt unless there is glaring evidence supporting the assertion that it is not a worthwhile trip,” Chung said.

“If a trip costs $100 million, and yields benefits in the region of $200 million, then it is better than a trip that costs $1 million and yields $500,000 value,” he said.

But Chung said if Simpson Miller does not carry the right personnel with her on the trips, it may result in embarrassment or fail to yield the desired results.

Dennis Meadows, a former senator on the Opposition benches and a current member of the lobby group, Citizens Action for Principles and Integrity, has urged Jamaicans to be patient.

“It is too early to assess if the country gets value for money as the yield from these trips may not be realised until later,” he said.

Meadows suggested that a cost-benefit analysis of the net return on overseas trips was needed, but said in its absence, he appreciates the concern about the travel bill in the context of a depressed economy and tight fiscal space.

He stressed that Simpson Miller must be allowed to build international goodwill and network through direct contact.

However, Meadows suggested that the real problem lies in the “gross deficiency” in the Government’s communication strategy.

This lack of information, he stressed, was feeding the concerns.

“The people have a right to be told the objective of each trip, the size of the delegation, and the role of each member of the team,” Meadows said.

“On her return, a statement must be made in Parliament on the results of each trip.”

Horace Daley, the president of Professional Jamaicans for Jamaica Incorporated, which assists at-risk youths, agreed with Meadows.

“All thinking citizens of Jamaica must be cognisant that the prime minister has made it her primary goal to bring much-needed investments into the country, which also includes grants to facilitate growth.”

Likening the position of a prime minister to that of a CEO, Daley said: “Our citizens have made a premature judgement on the prime minister’s cost of travel, rather than assessing the greater good that her business trips will do for our nation in the foreseeable future.”

-- DM