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JM | Aug 8, 2022

For a role Kamina Johnson Smith was not guaranteed, OPM’s $18 million campaign price tag is a disservice to Jamaica

Gavin Riley

Gavin Riley / Our Today

Foreign Affairs Minister Kamina Johnson Smith smiles after concluding day three of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Kigali, Rwanda on June 22, 2022. (Photo: Twitter @KaminaJSmith)

Of its own volition, and without the ‘teeth-pulling’ process of the Access to Information Act (ATI), the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM) has revealed that Jamaica wasted over J$18 million to fund a failed Kamina Johnson Smith campaign.

The August 7 statement, which read like a succinct ‘kumbaya’ for all the “significant contacts” the country gained, has upset me in a way I didn’t know was possible.

Here you have the Government beaming about “transparency” and “accountability”, when we spent J$18,267,575.07 to promote Johnson Smith for a role she was never destined to have.

Looking at the Commonwealth Secretariat’s organisational structure, one quickly learns that the secretary-general post Jamaica was gunning for holds no ‘power’ to speak of, as it is run by Queen Elizabeth II herself.

Worse still, as I stress this role held no tangible benefit to the island, it bears repeating that a Commonwealth Secretary-General in the form on Johnson Smith could not be seen as ‘favourist’ to Jamaica in any way.

You might even be reading this and wonder, why does this sound so familiar? It could be nothing, or the fact that accusations of nepotism and mismanagement were what landed Scotland in the quandary she was in (and managed to survive by three votes).

Jamaica, by its definition, seems to be the epitome of antitheses: One day we’re beaming with pride over the indomitability of our athletes and in the very next breath, something will come to erode all the ‘feel-goodness’.

And that’s EXACTLY how I feel about the entire Johnson Smith saga.

As the official representative of the Jamaican delegation, Minister of Foreign Affairs Kamina Johnson Smith speaks at the flag-raising ceremony of Jamaica Day at Expo 2020 in Dubai on February 18, 2022. (Photo: Twitter @kaminajsmith)

In my opening line, I said that we ‘wasted’ over $18 million, and this is the hill I’m willing to die on.

How else do you explain this to me?

When there are soooooooo many more pressing needs at this time, in this country, we spend $18+ million JUST to promote our astute foreign affairs minister for two months?

And what did we achieve from this?

“Despite not having won, Jamaica garnered significant and widespread international support. The contacts made and the opportunities to share views and secure understanding on issues of common concern have served to strengthen bilateral relations and further enhance Jamaica’s reputation as a strong voice on the international stage.”

Okay fine. They didn’t have to release this information at the time that they did, so points for transparency. But, on the matter of accountability, how does that go?

Surely we as taxpayers can’t lose this much and people keep their jo-.
*realises this is Jamaica, after all*
*cynicism intensifies*

So… a grand bill of J$43,942,443.54—which covers both Johnson Smith’s ‘marketing’ and travel across Africa as well as the Government of Jamaica’s delegation to the Rwandan capital of Kigali for the 2022 Commonwealth summit—is summed up by all the great exposure we got?

Perhaps another legacy project needed to be added to the roster because the Office of the Prime Minister, or those who work there, are clearly having a ‘fumes’ issue as that which similarly affects the Cornwall Regional Hospital.

A section of the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM) from its Hope Road entrance in Kingston. (Photo: solarheadofstate.org)

There is no other way to explain this willful ignorance, I fear, so a rational argument would be to say that you lot are ill.

The reality, however, is far more depressing as, for the umpteenth time, this administration has gone to great lengths to prove it has no grasp of the issues at hand.

It’s time to face the music, folks, $18 million is a lot of money no matter what currency ‘lens’ you view it through. Calling a spade a spade, to fork out that much and have NOTHING to show for it is an embarrassing prospect.

Whatever happened to the golden rule of the Ministry of Finance with regards to public expenditure, which, according to its website, reads: “financial resources of the Government are allocated and used in the most efficient manner, and on a basis which reflects the Government’s priorities and accords to high standards of accountability and transparency”?

Better yet, that money could have been repurposed with a greater return on investment with either the Sunshine Girls or the Reggae Girlz who both represent this country so well on the international stage time and time again but struggle to get any support.

The senior Jamaica women’s netball team, Sunshine Girls, thanking the crowd for their support after reaching a historic first gold-medal final where they lost 55-51 to Australia. The Sunshine Girls earned Jamaica’s first silver medal in netball at the 2022 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, England. (Photo: Twitter @NetballSL)

Several schools would have loved that consideration or even still deplorable roads, hospitals or addressing homelessness. Obviously, $18 million is not a ‘fix-all’ but the possibilities are present and endless.

Earlier this year, when dozens of Jamaican students were stranded in Ukraine as Russia invaded, they could have been brought home without fuss or debate and not offered a “loan”.

Service members of the Ukrainian Armed Forces drive a tank during military exercises in Kharkiv region, Ukraine February 10, 2022. (Photo: REUTERS/Vyacheslav Madiyevskyy)

We have so much time and money for these so-called “opportunities” that we forget the priorities right in front of us.

There is a reason voter apathy is so high in Jamaica, instances like this will only make it worse.

I hope this Government realises that the people are watching and with inflation and the cost of living rising every day (and another pandemic!), decisions will be made, sooner or later.


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