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Caribbean News Desk prog: Concerns about Jamaican ministers’ huge cell phone bills

A furore over telephone bills incurred by members of Jamaica’s cabinet has erupted with the country’s  Parliamentary Opposition demanding an explanation from the Simpson-Miller administration. 

This follows an investigation done by a local media house (RJR Group) which revealed that the government has spent more than  US$35-thousand dollars on cellular phones charges in eleven Ministries between July 2013 to June this year for Cabinet Ministers and their juniors.

The Opposition says it also wants the immediate curtailing of  expenditure on phone calls.

Jamaica Labour Party General Secretary, Dr. Horace Chang, says in light of  the country’s fiscal challenges the amount being spent on the bills will be viewed negatively.

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In records obtained through the Access to Information legislation, it was discovered that some Ministers have been racking up  hefty phone bills with the Jamaican  taxpayer footing the bills.

Foreign Affairs State Minister Arnaldo Brown’s bill for the year was the highest.

The Junior Minister, who roams on his foreign trips, had a more than US$8-thousand dollar cell phone bill for the twelve months. For June this year alone, Mr. Brown’s cell phone was US$3,660 .  He recorded almost US$1,340 October last year and more than US$1,500 dollars in December.

His senior minister, AJ Nicholson’s calls cost little more that US$2,000 for the year…. about a quarter of his junior’s cell phone bill.

The country’s Energy Minister Phillip Paulwell had the second highest bill at more than US$8,000 for his  two cell phones.

Health Minister Dr. Fenton Ferguson and Environment Minister Robert Pickersgill inched close to US$ 7,142 with Dr. Ferguson’s two cell phones running a bill of 749-thousand Jamaican dollars.

Mr. Pickersgill’s charge was US$ 6,687 but his Ministry submitted only eleven bills.  In June this year, Mr. Pickersgill’s cell phone bill was US$ 1,267.  That same ministry spent US$982 on Junior Minister Ian Hayles’ account for the entire year.

With two phones, Tourism Minister Wykeham McNeil’s eleven cellular phone bills were almost half  a million Jamaican dollars, with one month showing talk charges of US$ 1,366.

His Junior Minister Damion Crawford’s cell phone was US$ 3,250, he peaked in February, with a bill of US$1,607.

Local Government Minister Noel Arscott’s bill was US$2,580 and junior Minister Colin Fagan incurred US$1,785 for ten months.

At Jamaica’s Transport, Works and Housing Ministry its two Cabinet Ministers and one State Minister had a combined bill of  more than US$3,571. Youth Minister Lisa Hanna’s bill was relatively low compared with the others at US$401.

Mark Golding, the Justice Minister, does not have a government mobile phone assigned to him.

Of the records we received, National Security Minister Peter Bunting’s US$285 was the lowest, with his monthly bill cell phone bill remaining just under US$26.

The ministries of Finance, Education and Labour and Social Security did not respond to the request from the Access to Information Secretariat while the Agriculture, Investment, Industry and Commerce ministries promised to provided their bills shortly.

Also in this edition…

Guyana’s Attorney General in hot water over purported remarks about a planned armed attack on a newspaper

Two Cuban boat people missing

Guyana’s Clerk likely to reject Speaker’s instruction to convene parliament

A Dutch court has ordered Suriname Airways to compensate several passengers