Sat | Apr 13, 2024

Kamina’s campaign expenses matter

Published:Saturday | August 13, 2022 | 12:06 AM


I don’t think anyone was shocked by the figures released by Government for Minister Kamina Johnson Smith’s failed bid for the secretary general post in the Commonwealth of Nations. As someone commented online, “disturbing but not surprising”. The $18 million was reportedly spent on the campaign and $25 million spent on travel expenses to attend the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Rwanda in June. Another $15 million came from undisclosed funders (supposedly in Jamaica) which went to a public relations firm in US, a firm used by the Jamaica Tourist Board to promote Jamaica.

Did foreign interests support the campaign? Did they expect tourism revenues to flow from Johnson Smith’s bid? Approximately US$100,000 was paid to the firm, which raises questions. Why wasn’t a local firm used since this was primarily about engaging the 54 Commonwealth members voting at the meeting? We expect Government to support its candidate, but to what extent for a job which benefits the individual with personal gains? There are no kickbacks! The late bid was also controversial considering a Caribbean national, endorsed by CARICOM, is currently serving with two years left to complete the cycle of appointment.

We don’t know how much the incumbent Patricia Scotland spent campaigning. My understanding is that Scotland funded her own expenses based on a low-key, low-cost campaign which relied primarily on personal connections to lobby support. Although CARICOM as a group already endorsed Scotland to continue as the candidate from the Caribbean, Jamaica chose to break away from CARICOM’s position on the matter, although we supported the endorsement previously.

The other question relates to the large delegation from Jamaica that travelled to Rwanda for the CHOGM where the critical vote was held. Johnson Smith was expected to win and a large delegation was on hand to celebrate. Jamaica’s Ambassador to the US Audrey Marks was present; I am not sure what value Marks added. Marks was tipped to replace Johnson Smith as minister; her presence must have been symbolic. The PM’s wife and others were also part of the delegation. I am sure most would not have been there if Johnson Smith’s name were not on the ballot.

We cannot ignore costs to host two influential leaders in the Commonwealth – the presidents of India and Rwanda. The close timing of these visits shortly after Johnson Smith announced her candidacy was obviously linked. The auditor general might have reasons to probe Johnson Smith’s campaign expenses, including US dollar payments to a foreign PR firm. The campaign was triggered by an overzealous team, driven by big egos and foreign influences who were convinced that Johnson Smith had this ‘in the bag’. We are not a wealthy country. We must question priorities and be mindful of tactics used to cover up and justify unreasonable expenses.