First there was the Mombasa grass, then the $800 million bushing programme and now the $8.4 million phone bill, and no decisive action from the Prime Minister. No one has been held accountable. Prime Minister Andrew Holness has arguably marketed himself as new and different from other Jamaican Prime Ministers and politicians, but I can see no exemplars of difference. If he is anything like he has marketed himself to be, he will fire his Finance Minister post- haste without consideration of the internal political fallout.
As to the Finance Minister, oh how the mighty have fallen. So Minister of Finance, Audley Shaw, has found himself embroiled in an embarrassing and undeniable scandal of his own making. Shaw, a man who is the chief muckraker of Jamaican politics, has made a political living out of triumphant scandal mongering. Now, with the revelation of his mindboggling $ 8.4 million telephone bill, he is acting chastened. I dear say, where is the haughtiness now Mr. Shaw?
While one should not gloat at the fallen, I can feel no empathy for Shaw, he deserves his comeuppance. In his public abasement, I am reminded of the Jamaican adage: ‘the same knife that sticks goat sticks sheep.’ What has happened to the bombast and gloating sarcasm he is known for when he chronicles the real and or perceived misdeeds of the PNP? I find it remarkable that Mr. Shaw would sheepishly offer his inability to manipulate technology as his lame excuse for his excesses. Come now Mr. Shaw, do you really think Jamaicans are that stupid? If you can’t use a smart phone how can you run the country’s finances? We are not all fools, come better than that.
If their public pronouncements and defense of the indefensible are anything to go by, apparently there are some in the JLP who believes that Jamaicans are fools. Dr. Saphire Longmore is blaming ‘reckless business practices’ by the telecom provider. One Bruce Golding, whom I suspect to be also one of Jamaica’s former P.Ms, joined the choir in a letter to a daily newspaper. In relating an experience he had with a Jamaican telecom provider, Golding wrote; “ It would be useful to get a breakdown of the charges” before noting, “I had a bad experience last November when, after attending a two-day conference in Beijing, my next monthly bill was over $360,000.00.” He further stated in his missive, “For Minister Shaw, who has to travel much more frequently, these charges would be multiples of mine.”
What hogwash, as Jamaican telephone users, we have all felt the hands of the telecom giants and their extortionate charges. We either pay or lose service, we would never be allowed to rack up more than $4 million in charges in a month. Each provider informs you by messaging, of your monthly billing if you are a post paid customer, not only that, they all so will inform you that you have exceeded your credit limit.
I suppose the same policy obtains for government officials so there are no acceptable excuses for Mr. Shaw’s reckless telephonic usage. The implausibility of Mr. Shaw’s supposed ignorance cannot and should not be ignored. Between September 2016 and October 2016, Shaw’s telephone bill went from $622, 192. 54 to $4,220,814.11, previously, his August 2016 bill was $1,540,135.86. That’s a total of $6,383,142.51 in phone call charges for that three month period.
Those telephonic charges beg the questions, what earth shattering happened in that three-month period? Where was Shaw between August and October 2016? Was he here in Jamaica or abroad? If he was abroad, what are the benefits of his travels and the exorbitant phone billing for that period? From Mr. Shaw’s Facebook postings, his only trip outside Jamaica was in October when he attended the IMF meeting in Washington D.C. Further from those postings, I have gleaned he was here in Jamaica in late September as Hurricane Matthew threatened Jamaica.
Why then, does he have a combined phone bill for $4,843,006.65 for the months of September and October? If excessive roaming fee by the telecom provider is to be blamed, I want to know, what the duration of the IMF meeting in Washington D.C was. When did he return to Jamaica? These little details are of importance because we don’t pay roaming charges whilst we are in country.
As a supposed anti-corruption crusader, does Shaw realise that by accepting a more than $1 million write-off on the contentious telephone bill from his telecom provider, he has opened up himself to potential quid pro quo requests at least or in the extreme, blackmail. Nothing in Mr. Shaw’s action with regards to the matter, can elicit confidence in his continued stewardship of the second most important arm of governance in Jamaica.
The financial and ethical integrity of this administration faces serious questions. Wherein, we are faced with a Finance Minister who is ignorant of the most basic knowledge of Smart phones operation if he is to be believed. One who has opened up himself, and the government of this country, to potential blackmail by those with vested interest in the telecommunications industry. Can Shaw justifiably say no to that telephone provider if he is asked for a waiver? Will that $1 million odd in personal write-off be deemed a tax write off for this fiscal year or in future years? Will Shaw identify the telecom provider? What were the explicit and implicit terms of the write off? Shaw must be instructed to be forthright with the Jamaican people.
Prime Minister Holness seems to be treating this most glaring of ‘missteps’ as another nine-day talk shop topic. Nothing could be further from the truth. We want answers; we want heads to roll as an example that we will not tolerate the wastage of our hard-earned tax dollars. Some Jamaicans have noted the alacrity with which Trinidad and Tobago’s Prime Minister, Dr. Keith Rowley fired cabinet colleague, Marlene McDonald, within 48 hours after it was revealed that she allegedly had ties to T and T’s criminal underground. Why then, can’t this so called new and different Prime Minister, find the cojones to fire his Finance Minister and other cabinet ministers who have been implicated in wrong doings even if they have not been proven to be criminal in nature? A word of advice to Holness: perception is greater than reality.
Holness’ response to the bushing fiasco, the Mombasa grass and the phone bill debacle does not make him new and different; in fact, it has concretized the notion that he is cut from the same cloth as his fellow politicians from whom he tried to distance himself. No better herring, no better barrel. Party supremacy trumps nationhood and good governance.
If good governance was a central pillar of his administration, Holness would not mandate that the Ministry of Finance formulate a policy to regulate /cap ministerial phone bills. As the aforementioned daily so succinctly opined, “Mr. Holness shouldn’t ask the mongoose to be the overseer of the hen house.” That’s so true, Shaw and his minions at the Finance Ministry should never be allowed to participate in, much less devise, such a policy as indicated by P.M Holness.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Except for our editorials on these pages, the views expressed in other correspondence to us do not necessarily reflect our view and way of thinking.