By Jeanette A Calder, Executive Director, Jamaica Accountability Meter Portal (JAMP)
“Citizens are not only citizens, but they are also shared owners of all public resources, assets and liabilities. They are not mere taxpayers but contributors to the entire machinery of Government. Citizens are more than voters; they are employers with a shared responsibility to monitor the performance and hold the executive government to account as to how they have managed the public resources efficiently and effectively while working with Parliament. This is the message of the Jamaica Accountability Meter Portal (JAMP) and consequently, our commitment is to prepare this generation of Jamaicans with the tools and information they need to fulfil those responsibilities, to receive the best return they can on public resources which include high-quality public goods and services that satisfy all public needs.
In November 2014, Jamaicans were “up in arms” about the latest public sector scandal. The premier public housing agency had bailed out a failed business venture with a USD$1.63 million property acquisition. It led to weeks of public outrage, worsened by the Prime Minister’s steadfast refusal to hold the Board accountable for a decision that had no supporting documentation. The abuse and cronyism displayed by the Agency’s board was something to marvel at but many marvelled even more when the disquiet of Jamaicans and their cry for answers and accountability moved our Auditor General to conduct a probe into the Agency’s decision. The unfamiliar message received was – “You matter”.
However, some five months later, came the greatest marvel of them all. The SAI’s report was tabled in Parliament with findings far more appalling than where our imaginations had taken us. However, despite several weeks of public outcry, news coverage, opposition members’ demands and citizen’s protests, the SAI’s findings were greeted with nothing but deafening silence, from Parliament and the executive government. This left many frustrated and disempowered with only questions and no answers.
Since that political stir I am now a change agent, championing the cause for good governance and seeking to replicate my experience for other “concerned, frustrated, disempowered ignorant” civilians. Since four years I am proud to be the founder and executive director of NGO, JAMP.
JAMP – Jamaica Accountability Meter Portal
JAMP includes a suite of six anti-corruption and accountability tools (see below) that were designed and developed (and now housed on the digital portal – www.jampja.org):
- National Budget Tool
- Member of Parliament Tracker
- Procurement Tracker
- Legislative Tracker
- Access to Information Request
This work seeks to (1) strengthen the accountability mechanisms in the Parliament and Government, (2) educate citizens about public finances and the inner workings of Jamaica’s accountability framework and (3) then stimulate other citizens to participate in the monitoring and oversight of public finances.
There are four key ingredients that facilitated the birthing of JAMP. First was the cornerstone – learning to read and understand the national budget. Second, researching the work of Jamaica’s supreme audit institution and the accountability ecosystem that feeds into it and that it feeds into. Third, the supportive response of Jamaica’s SAI to the research process and the post-research capacity building support that continues. Fourth, the incredible benefit of several INTOSAI and International Budget Partnership Budget publications on “SAI and citizen engagement”. This research clearly showed that the missing component in the public financial management system that was not actively participating was the citizen.
Collaborating with the Office of the Auditor General of Jamaica
However, crucial to the success of this project was working effectively in collaboration with the Office of the Auditor General of Jamaica. Key to the success of JAMP, a civil society organisation working with SAI Jamaica to hold the government to account includes the following:
- Ease of Access: All 41 SAI reports tabled in the research period 2010 to 2015 were publicly available on the SAI’s website. JAMP can also access the SAI head and members of the SAI.
- Ease of Understanding: Reports are also written in simple language that an average citizen can understand and comprehend. Audit findings were clear and easy to understand.
- Skill of Distilling: The absence of extraneous fluff and the distillation of the findings and recommendations removed the tediousness that accompanied the reports of other anti-corruption bodies. Even after seven since this project started, JAMP and the public are benefitting from it still.
- Credibility: Each annual report first devotes a significant portion to the SAI reflecting, examining and reporting on their performance. This willingness to hold themselves to account before holding others adds to the credibility of the organisation. It is something every SAI should replicate.
Disarming threats to the credibility of the SAI
After four years in the civil space, JAMP has built both the tools and credibility such work depends on. We’ve increased awareness of SAI report findings as the media’s “go to” for public commentary. We highlight the general work of the SAI, with a freshly released animated video which received feedback from the SAI prior to completion. Our ‘AccountAMeter’ is a digital tool that tracks report findings, updates on the recommendations and places the willing citizen, in contact with the responsible public officers. In engaging our Public Accounts Committee, we’ve had recent success in their agreeing to public sharing of auditee responses to SAI reports, which were not previously accessible. One unanticipated but very crucial value added has been our ability to disarm threats to the credibility of our SAI when media reports or politicians present a biased account of the SAI’s reports. For some public officials who are willing to blow the whistle but are fearful of even approaching the SAI with information, JAMP has been a bridge for submitting their concerns to the SAI.
With two more tools in the pipeline, JAMP is more than hopeful and expectant about the difference we will make. We not only believe it but are demonstrating the value of the citizen in the PFM process and hope that our work will inspire other SAI’s and citizens to identify ways to shore up these compatible objectives both parties have dedicated themselves to”.