Call for transparency and factual details of Jamaican Government expenditure on Kamina Johnson Smith’s failed Commonwealth Secretary-General bid!
Ambassador Curtis A. Ward
(09 August 2022) — Since release by the Jamaican government on August 7th of the long-awaited response to repeated demands for transparency and disclosure of the cost to Jamaican taxpayers for the unsuccessful bid of Foreign Minister Kamina Johnson-Smith to serve as Commonwealth Secretary-General, the government’s statement raised more questions than it answered. The government’s statement introduced a new twist to the saga when it referred to the contract with public relations services provided to the campaign by Finn Partners as not an agreement with the government but a contract secured by “corporate Jamaica” procuring the services. That disclosure, if true, raised additional concerns of lack of transparency and whether the so-called “corporate Jamaica” expected any quid pro quo.
It has now been revealed in a Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) filing by Finn Partners, Inc. with the US Justice Department, received by NSD/FARA Registration Unit on June 06, 2022, that the client of record is the foreign minister herself, Kamina Johnson Smith, and the country represented was Jamaica. Under U.S. law filers pursuant to FARA are subject to perjury and severe penalties if the information contained in the filing is not factual. This now raises further questions as to whether the Jamaican government deliberately intended to mislead the Jamaican people with its claim that the contract with Finn Partners, Inc. was between the foreign firm and “corporate Jamaica.”
To further complicate matters for the Jamaican government are statements by the minister of information made during radio interviews on August 8th reiterating the now defunct role of “corporate Jamaica” and claiming further that it would be inappropriate for him to disclose who were the now fictitious “corporate Jamaica”. A level of obfuscation now seems obvious. In addition, a Gleaner/RJR poll taken before release of the government’s statement and released on August 8th, revealed only 11% of Jamaicans believe the taxpayers funds were well spent and a whopping 42% saying the money wasted; another 47% were not sure.
In press Release on August 8th, the Opposition People’s National Party expressed dissatisfaction with the explanations given by the Andrew Holness-led government and demanded further details about the expenditures and information on who paid whom. A report in the Jamaica Gleaner have the private sector weighing in on the call for transparency. The president of the Jamaica Manufacturers and Exporters Association is now asking the Holness government for clarity on the expenditure of scarce resources and the source of funding of Kamina Johnson Smith’s campaign. The private sector organization seemed troubled by the precedent of so-called “corporate Jamaica” funding of the campaign.
In a more detailed Release issue by the Advocacy Network (AN) on August 9th, the AN cast doubt on the government’s lack of transparency demanding answers, saying the AN “is not satisfied that a “clean, transparent, principled campaign that met the standards of accountability” was achieved.” The Advocacy Network’s press release is provided in full below.
Inadequate Accountability for Kamina Johnson Smith’s Campaign Spending!
Kingston, Jamaica, Tuesday, August 9, 2022. 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:
- 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)?
- 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?
- No dates were provided for 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?
- 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:
- 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?
- No declaration of “corporate Jamaica” funding of the campaign was announced at the launch on 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.”
- 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.”
For more information, contact:
Indi Mclymont-Lafayette – Tel (876) 852-8763
Patricia Donald Phillips – Tel (876) 455-3650
The Advocates Network is an unincorporated, non-partisan alliance of individuals and organizations advocating for human rights and good governance to improve the socio-economic conditions of the people of Jamaica and to transform lives. Our core objective is to forge an effective, broad-based collaboration of individuals and civil society organizations to support human rights and good governance issues.
© Curtis A. Ward/The Ward Post