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JAMAICA | Cabinet Ministers Take Responsibility to Clear Up their Cell Phone Bills

Featured Prime Minister Andrew Holness in a meeting with Cabinet Ministers to discuss and review the issue of communication costs and high phone bills. Prime Minister Andrew Holness in a meeting with Cabinet Ministers to discuss and review the issue of communication costs and high phone bills.
KINGSTON, July 11, 2016 - Prime Minister Andrew Holness convened a meeting of Cabinet Ministers ahead of the parliamentary session this afternoon  to discuss and review the issue of communication costs and high cellular phone bills being incurred for roaming and data charges.

The Prime Minister said the situation is unacceptable and must be addressed immediately.

During the meeting at Parliament, Prime Minister Holness ordered an audit of all cell phone bills of Ministers and State Ministers. This is to confirm the accuracy of information in the public domain.

Coming from the meeting, it was acknowledged that there was no standard, clear and consistent policy being applied across government regarding the treatment of communication expenses for Ministers and Ministers of State.

The Prime Minister has therefore directed the Ministry of Finance to review and report on the respective policies for the provision of communication services including cell phones, operating in the various Ministries. This is to allow Cabinet to make a comprehensive decision on how communication services and expenses for Ministers are treated.

In the interim, the Prime Minister directed that cellular phone expenses be capped. The Ministry of Finance has been tasked to advise the Prime Minister, within a week, on the appropriate amount for the cap to be paid by each ministry for the Minister’s cellular phone bills. Any amount exceeding the cap should, therefore, be the responsibility of the respective Ministers unless otherwise approved by the Permanent Secretary.

The Cabinet members have agreed that public concerns about the level of some bills are valid.

In furtherance of their Ministerial responsibility to be frugal with the public purse, notwithstanding that most of the costs incurred would have been in pursuit of the Government’s business, they have committed to reimburse the Government retroactively the difference between actual bill and the capped amount to be determined and imposed.

In the meantime, the Minister of Science, Energy and Technology is being mandated to enter into discussions with telecommunications providers to devise standard cell phone and data packages for Government Ministers.

The Prime Minister received the commitment of the Cabinet to ensure that the greatest care is exercised in the discharge of their duties and the use of public resource.

Yesterday, Radio Jamaica  reported that Finance Minister Audley Shaw had racked up a cell phone bill amounting to $8.34 million for the March 2016 to February 2017 period. The figure was obtained through an Access to Information Request by RJR News.

The three lowest bills for the minister over the period was one for more than $5,000, one at more than $$22,000 and another at $68,000.

However, the highest bills came in December, August and October. 

In December, the minister's bill was more than $838,000. In August, it was more than $1.5 million. But in October, the cell phone bill for the finance minister reached more than $4.2 million. 

For August and October, the Finance Ministry said Mr. Shaw travelled overseas for official and urgent personal reasons.

According to the ministry, he was involved in finalising Jamaica's Precautionary Standby Agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

A query with the service provider later showed that the charges were due to data usage while roaming.

Since then, the Finance Ministry said Mr. Shaw has paid roughly $2.6 million to the ministry for personal roaming data usage.

Following the discovery, the minister has since instructed the Finance Ministry to place a cap on usage for government issued cellular phones.

The finance minister also instructed technocrats to consider setting limits on calls and data services for government officials who do not have limits.

Meanwhile, RJR News has also revealed the phone bills for other government and state ministers between March 2016 and February 2017.
   
Finance State Minister Fayval Williams accumulated a cell phone bill reaching almost $819,000.
   
For her Finance Ministry colleague, Rudyard Sencer, it was roughly $361,000.
   
In the Office of the Prime Minister, the cell phone bill for Daryl Vaz was almost $630,000.
   
Dr. Horace Chang's bill was a little more than $200,000 and Derrick Smith, $91,000.
   
The cell phone bill for Pearnel Charles Jr. for the period was more than $355,000.
   
RJR says it has not received the phone bills for Health Minister Dr. Christopher Tufton and Labour Minister Shahine Robinson.
 
When RJR News asked the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM) for Andrew Holness' phone bill, it received an email response dated May 2017, saying: "Please note that the Office of the Prime Minister is not responsible for the mobile telephone bills of the Prime Minister." 
   
If this information holds true, that would make Mr. Holness one of two government officials who are directly responsible for their own cell phone bills. 
 
Earlier this year, RJR News reported that National Security Minister Robert Montague uses his personal mobile phone and pays the bill.
   
It is not clear whether either the prime minister or the national security minister discusses national business on their private phones.


                                                                                                 

Last modified onTuesday, 11 July 2017 20:03
  • Countries: Jamaica