Wed | Aug 15, 2018

Canute Thompson | Time will heal Seiveright but PS must answer

Published:Tuesday | June 12, 2018 | 12:00 AM
Canute Thompson
Minister of Tourism Edmund Barlett with Permanent Secretary Jennifer Griffith.
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The saga of the nearly $9m racked up by Delano Seiveright, over the short period of 15 months and Seiveright's response to the public's concern are telling descriptors of a young man who has a bloated view of himself as well as a decline in controls and accountability.

Only time will lead Seiveright to a more grounded view of himself, but in the meantime, the accountable officer in the Ministry of Tourism must be held to account and must be required, by the relevant parliamentary oversight body, to explain what went down.

The response of Seiveright to public concerns is that basically the $9m was money well spent, and had it not been for him, tourism would not have grown the way it did in 2017. That claim is as pitiable as it is preposterous and lacks alignment with the facts. It is pitiable because it is a reflection of a wild and uncontained ego.

The statement essentially suggests that the efforts of the minister, the head of the Jamaica Tourist Board, the other hard-working professionals in the sector, and the retained PR agencies across the world are collectively limited in their contribution to the growth that occurred. The growth, the claim is, rests with the Seiveright factor. Frankly, no conscious person thinks that way or speaks that way.

But when we examine the data, we see that tourism has been growing almost every year. A quick look at the last seven years (chosen randomly) will show that in two years, growth was in excess of 7% and in another year above 5%. There was one year of a slight dip.

But in April 2017 when Minister Bartlett was making his contribution to the State of the Nation Debate, on the heels of growth of less than 4% in 2016 over 2015, Minister Bartlett made it appear as though the sector was moribund and that he was bringing back life to the sector. Hear what the minister said:

"Mr Speaker, as minister of tourism, I am pleased to be here, once again, to report to all stakeholders that Jamaica enjoyed yet another phenomenal year in tourism. I can now confidently proclaim that the country remains firmly on track to achieving or even surpassing some of the benchmarks under our '5x5x5'growth plan, specifically the 5% annual growth target that we have earmarked over the next five years, even amid projections for tourism growth in the region to exceed no more than 3.5% up to 2020.

"The stellar performance of the sector in 2016 underscores the resilience and dynamism of the country's tourism product and demonstrates its vitality to sustained economic and social prosperity."

So despite previous years of growth in excess of the approximate 4% of 2016, the minister gave the impression that the 2016 performance had broken new ground. But what is more, the minister's estimate for 2017 was 5%. A large portion of the growth of 10% in 2017 was due to the diversion of cruise ships from other parts of the Caribbean due to weather conditions.

Seiveright, in defending his $9m spend, accused the Parliament's Public Administration and Appropriations Committee chair and former tourism minister of "bad mind", claiming that McNeill's performance was "lacklustre" and so he is envious of "stellar" performance. Facts should matter.

 

ACCOUNTABILITY

 

The Government of Jamaica has set out clear guidelines concerning the incurring of costs in relation to overseas travel of government officials. The permanent secretary is the guardian of the resources of the ministry. She must answer a few questions, including:

Given Seiveright's title as communications strategist, what are his specific job functions and deliverables, and how are those functions and deliverables different from those of the director of tourism and the PR agencies of the ministry?

What strategic considerations/ gaps in operations of the ministry led to the recruitment of Mr Seiveright?

What are the processes in place in the Ministry for the approval of overseas travels and was there full compliance with those processes in relation to Mr Seiveright's travels?

How does the cost of Mr Seiveright's travels compare with that of other functionaries in the ministry?

- Canute Thompson is head of the Caribbean Centre for Education and Planning and lecturer in educational leadership. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and canutethompson1@gmail.com.