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Pitiable and preposterous claims from a vainglorious Seiveright

...still the permanent secretary must answer

Canute
Thompson

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

The saga of the nearly $9 million racked up by Delano Seiveright over the short period of 15 months, and his response to the 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 ought to be required by the relevant parliamentary oversight body to explain what went down.

Seiveright's response is that basically the $9 million 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 work of the minister, the head of the Jamaica Tourist Board, the other hard-working professionals in the sector, and the retained public relations agencies across the world are collectively limited in their contribution to the growth that occurred. It must be the Seiveright factor.

But when we examine the data we see that tourism has been growing almost every year. A quick look at the last seven years will show that in two years growth was in excess of seven per cent, and in another year in excess of five per cent. See table.

But in April 2017, when Minister Edmund Bartlett was making his contribution to the state of the nation debate on the heels of less than four per cent growth in 2016 over 2015, he made it appear as though the sector was moribund and that he was bringing back life to the sector. Hear what he 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 five per cent 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 per cent 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 four per cent for 2016, Bartlett gave the impression that the 2016 performance had broken new ground. What's more, his estimate for 2017 was five per cent. A large portion of the growth of 10 per cent in 2017 was due to the diversion of cruise ships from other parts of the Caribbean due to weather conditions.

Seiveright, in defending his $9-million spend, accused Public Administration and Appropriations Committee chair and former tourism minister, Wykeham McNeill, of 'bad mind' and that his own performance had been “lacklustre” and so he was envious of “stellar” performance. Facts should matter. But I submit that the difference between Seiveright and Bartlett is that the younger of the two is simply more aggressive in making preposterous claims.

The Government of Jamaica, through the Ministry of Finance, 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:

1) Given Seiveright's title as senior 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 public relations agencies working with the ministry?

2) What strategic considerations/gaps in operations of the Ministry led to the recruitment of Seiveright?

3) What are the processes in place in the ministry for the approval of overseas travel, and was there full compliance with those processes in relation to Seiveright's trips?

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

5) Were value-for-money analyses done on Seiveright's travels and, if so, what were the results?

 

Dr Canute Thompson is head of the Caribbean Centre for Educational Planning, lecturer in the School of Education, and co-founder and chief consultant for the Caribbean Leadership Re-Imagination Initiative, at The University of the West Indies, Mona. He is also author of three books and several articles on leadership. Send comments to the Observer or canutethompson1@gmail.com.