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$43m spent on Johnson Smith’s failed Commonwealth post bid, Summit Loop Jamaica

The Jamaican Government spent a combined $43 million on the failed campaign by Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade Minister, Senator Kamina Johnson Smith, to wrest the Commonwealth Secretary General position away from Baroness Patricia Scotland, and for its delegation that attended the Commonwealth Heads of Government Summit in Kigali, Rwanda in June.

A total of $18.2 million was spent on the Johnson Smith campaign that started with the surprise announcement of her candidature by Jamaica House in April. Approximately $25 million was spent on the delegation, which included Prime Minister Andrew Holness and his wife Juliet, that attended the week-long Summit at which the incumbent, the Dominica-born Scotland, narrowly defeated Johnson Smith to retain her position as Commonwealth Secretary General.

The cost of the campaign and the trip to the east-central African nation was revealed in a statement on Sunday by the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM).

According to the statement, the $18.2 million that was expended on the Johnson Smith campaign covered air and ground transportation, COVID-19 tests, meals and accommodation, public relations/communications support activities for staging of events such as the launch and engagements with delegations as well as IT support, printing of documents, photography, food, and beverages.

Regarding the $25 million that was spent by the government for its delegation to attend the Summit, OPM explained that the cost was absorbed by three participating ministries, with the OPM being responsible for $12.8 million of the amount. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade forked up $7.7 million, while the Ministry of Tourism contributed $5.1 million.

The statement also confirmed that global marketing agency, FINN Partners provided public relations, media relations and thought leadership services for Johnson Smith.

“The government of Jamaica was not a party to this arrangement, which was secured by corporate Jamaica,” the statement added.

The Prime Minister was expected to answer questions in the Parliament related to the cost of the campaign, including whether a foreign-based public relations entity was involved and the source of the funding.

In providing the answers Sunday night, the OPM said it was “fulfilling its public commitment to transparency and accountability”.

The OPM asserted that Johnson Smith’s campaign was efficiently conducted and utilised the existing channels and resources, including already established travel plans and engagements.

“This significantly minimised additional and direct expenditure from the budget for the campaign,” it insisted.

The prime minister’s office highlighted that Johnson Smith’s candidature was announced in April and launched that same month in London, with some assistance for this event from corporate Jamaica.

Said the OPM: “The Minister made strategic use of the opportunities offered by impending official engagements, to carry out lobbying activities. In that regard, in her capacity as Foreign Minister, Minister Johnson Smith attended meetings of the Economic and Social Council (United Nations, New York, April 2022); the CARICOM Agri-Investment Forum & Expo (Guyana, May 2022); the 12th Ministerial Conference of the World Trade Organization (United Nations, Geneva, June 2022); and the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (Rwanda, June 2022)”.

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It also noted that Johnson Smith met with Heads of Government and counterpart Ministers on the margins of these programmed activities, to conduct the work of the Jamaican delegation, and simultaneously, to promote the candidature.

“This is standard operation in international organisations, particularly by small states like Jamaica, which are conscious of the need to capitalise on these avenues to conduct international relations, in order to minimise costs,” said the OPM.

It disclosed that the foreign affairs minister’s travel schedule took her to seven African countries in 10 days as she sought their votes for the secretary general post.

However, all of that would come to naught as, at the end of a divisive campaign, Scotland prevailed by a 27-24 margin and will serve out her remaining two years as secretary general.

The Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda, Gaston Browne, had stated that Jamaica was making a “monumental mistake” in challenging a Scotland for the post. He said the decision threatened to divide the 15-member Caricom bloc.

The OPM said the Jamaican government ran a clean, transparent, principled campaign that met the standards of accountability.