Government advisors bag big bucks despite austerity budget
Jamaica Cabinet members hire aides adding about $100million to government wage bill.
KINGSTON, Jamaica, Wednesday July 11, 2012 – While Minister of Finance Dr Peter Phillips has presented Jamaica with a belt-tightening Budget to reflect the state of the economy, it would seem that some members of the Cabinet aren’t feeling austerity’s pinch.
Jamaica’s Gleaner newspaper has confirmed that even as Phillips was tacking on tax to certain basic food items to raise revenue, at least eight Cabinet members were adding millions annually to the government's wage bill.
Information released to the paper under the Access To Information (ATI) Act reveals the eight Cabinet members committing close to JAM$100million annually in wages to some 40 consultants and executive/personal assistants who were hired between January and June this year.
That figure could grow when the contracts expire, as most have a gratuity clause, usually 25 percent of basic salary per annum, written into the agreements.
The official documents secured by the Gleaner under the ATI Act further revealed that the Ministry of Finance and Planning headed by Phillips was responsible for hiring the most advisors and assistants of the eight ministries randomly placed under the microscope.
That ministry now has a new chief technical advisor, an advisor, a special advisor, a communications advisor, two special assistants, two executive assistants and an administrative assistant, at a cost of $22.6million.
The Ministry of Education, with its three senior advisors to Minister Ronald Thwaites and a special assistant in the office of the Minister of Education, accounted for the second-largest payout to advisors and consultants. Gleaner tabulations put the education ministry's bill for advisors at $14.7 million per annum.
Dr Franklin Johnston, one of the senior advisors to Thwaites, collects a $5million annual basic salary and travelling allowance of $738,300, making him the highest paid consultant in the eight ministries under review.
According to the Ministry of Finance, travelling allowances were revised on April 1, 2012 and officers who were receiving $738,300 per annum have moved up to $904,428.
Johnston reportedly could not immediately say if his travelling allowance was increased.
The justice ministry, with its four advisors and an executive assistant, including a consultant to the permanent secretary, should be forking out no less than $13.8million annually for their services.
The Gleaner said it was a “ding-dong battle” between the Ministry of Industry, Investment and Commerce and the Ministry of Transport, Works and Housing, with the former set to pay out $11.8 million to its five advisors and assistants and the latter to pay out $11.9million per annum to its six advisors and assistants in basic salaries and travelling allowances.
The security ministry was allowed to employ three consultants at an annual cost of $4.9million but was told by the finance ministry that, in one instance, approval was given with the understanding that provisions were made in its existing budget to meet the payment.
The contracts are for between one and three years.