KINGSTON, Jamaica, Tuesday, August 9, 2022. The Advocates Network, a non-partisan alliance of individuals and organizations advocating for human rights and good governance, says it is not satisfied that Minister Kamina Johnson Smith’s failed campaign to secure the Commonwealth Secretary General position was a “clean, transparent, principled campaign that met the standards of accountability.”
Inadequate Accountability for Kamina Johnson Smith’s Campaign Spending!
According to the government’s press release, taxpayers provided J$18.2 million for Minister Kamina Johnson Smith’s failed campaign to secure the Commonwealth Secretary General position.
“Taxpayers also paid J$25.7 million for delegates to attend the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting held in Rwanda. Additionally, about J$16 million (US$99,000.00) was “secured by corporate Jamaica” to pay the leading PR agency in London, Finn Partners, for public relations, media relations and thought leadership services.
“The Advocates Network (AN) is not satisfied that a “clean, transparent, principled campaign that met the standards of accountability” was achieved.
“Jamaica is a signatory to the Open Government Partnership. According to the global Open Government Accountability Standards, accountability mechanisms require that public officials “give account for their actions, providing reasoned and evidence-based justifications for policy and program decisions…To this end, sufficient information must be provided to permit ongoing public scrutiny of the actions of public bodies.”
Using this standard, the AN is of the view that insufficient information has been provided to permit adequate public scrutiny of the campaign expenses.
This raises several questions and concerns, including the following:
1) What exactly was the amount spent on the “usual outlays associated with the lobbying activities for high-level candidatures” of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade (MFAFT)?
2) There is no indication of whether the campaign expenditure exceeded the approved budgetary allocations. We note that Information Minister Nesta Morgan told the public during an interview on Nationwide on June 6, 2022 that the OPM had provided a budget of J$3 to 4 million to spend on government communications. If spending exceeded approved budget line items, what variations were made from other budget lines, and what are the implications of these changes?
3) No dates were provided for the period of the expenditure. Is it from April 2022 when the campaign was launched in London or before April 2022 to include pre-launch planning expenditures?
4) Finn Partners reported that “Johnson Smith has traveled to African Commonwealth nations, including Nigeria, Botswana, Tanzania and Ghana, to press her bid that reportedly has backing from the UK and India.” Were these trips primarily for the campaign for which they provided services?
Were the 7 African countries visited in 10 days part of “already established travel plans and engagements?” If so, what foreign policy objective was being pursued and what was achieved? Who travelled with the Minister? Were the usual civil servants or other people involved in the campaign?
Further, Open Government Accountability Standards on preventing conflict of interest include declaration of interests. Here, the standards require that “public officials who occupy a position in which personal or private interests might impact upon official duties must be required by law to declare those interests…Declarations of interest must be made on taking up a post, and at regular intervals thereafter.”
With this in mind, several questions and issues are of concern, including:
1) No details are provided about who paid for the contract with Finn Partners? Who is “corporate Jamaica”? A group of companies in Jamaica or a single company?;
2) No declaration of “corporate Jamaica” funding of the campaign was announced at the launch in April 2022 or during the campaign (eg., during Minister Johnson Smith’s TVJ June 7, 2022 interview and Minister Robert Morgan's June 6, 2022 Nationwide Interview). ✓
We are not aware of any public disclosure by the government about “corporate Jamaica” funding of PR services by Finn Partners BEFORE June 10, 2022 when odwyerpr.com carried the article entitled: “Jamaica's Foreign Minister Taps Finn Partners.” ✓;
According to that odwyerpr.com article: “Finn Partners has a three-month $99K contract with Johnson Smith that expires June 30.”
3) Importantly, the Government itself through its Information Minister advised that it would be “a slippery slope, dangerous and inappropriate” for the Government to involve itself with a “private contractual relationship between private companies”.
However, the principle and basis for disclosure when Ministries, Departments and Agencies receive gifts are outlined in the Integrity Commission Act, the Ministry of Finance and Planning's Gift Policy (Circular No.17) and the campaign financing provisions of the Representation of the People’s Act.
These provisions underscore that it is in the public's interest for the donors for the Finn Partners services to be identified.
In addition to inadequate accountability, the AN is of the view that this was not the best, most fiscally prudent use of taxpayer’s money given the many competing demands for scarce government funding for urgent matters facing Jamaica.
This includes, but is not limited to:
✓ Addressing the epidemic crime problem
✓ Finding and assisting some of the over 30,000 missing school children
✓ Helping students with the rising cost of back-to-school expenditures
✓ Providing a LIVEABLE WAGE for our police officers, nurses, teachers and other civil servants.
Significantly, we note that only 11 per cent of Jamaicans think that the money was well spent.
The AN maintains that the government must provide more details of spending and better particulars to justify the scale of expenditure on this failed campaign and must provide a benchmark to achieve acceptable global standards of accountability.
The government must also use this experience to put in place adequate rules to enable FULL DISCLOSURE of information and to ensure that there are BUDGET LIMITS for “lobbying activities for high-level candidatures.”