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Jamaican diplomats grounded?

Jamaican diplomats and other officials at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade were grounded by a massive $23-million cut in its budget for trips overseas between the 2008-2009 and 2009-2010 financial years. However, officials in the ministry were reluctant to say how the decrease impacted its mandate. Dr Ken Baugh, minister of foreign affairs and foreign trade, as well as Ambassador Evadne Coye, permanent secretary in the ministry, are now in Chile on official business. However, a Sunday Gleaner source, who is familiar with the operations of the foreign affairs ministry, told our news team that much of the work that the ministry needs to get done is not being addressed as a result of the budget cut. “There is a freeze on travelling. A lot of important meetings cannot be attended,” said the source, who requested anonymity. Further cuts The informant also pointed out that the ministry’s travel and subsistence budget faced further cuts in the 2010-2011 financial year. According to the source, in order to cope with the setback, the ministry is now heavily dependent on the mission offices overseas. But former minister of foreign affairs and foreign trade under the People’s National Party’s (PNP) administration, Anthony Hylton, is not convinced that Jamaica has enough overseas missions to adequately fill the gap caused by the slash in the travel budget. “We don’t have a full complement of missions, especially considering the scope and shift in the international power base,” he said. Hylton said the size of the cut is increasingly worrying when one considers the correlation between foreign direct investment and economic growth. “A reduction of that magnitude must hamper the legitimate work of the ministry, whose essential task is to build our foreign relations,” Hylton said. The one-time foreign affairs minister argued that not even the advances in technology could be a substitute for building interpersonal relations and the participation in critical debates on issues affecting Jamaica and shaping the world. 2009 travel, subsistence budget According to data obtained under the Access to Information (ATI) Act, the ministry shelled out approximately $40.5 million on travel and subsistence for staff at its New Kingston headquarters in the 2008-2009 financial year. Of that amount, little over $25 million was spent on airfare, and $15.5 million was allocated as per diem. The following financial year saw the ministry’s travel and subsistence spend reduced to $17.2 million. Airfare dropped to $9.06 million, and per diem was a close $8.13 million When asked to state the various rates of per diem paid to officers/employees of the foreign affairs ministry, our news team was told that “the question on per diem should be sent to the Ministry of Finance under the Access to Information Act since they generate this information”. The ATI Act allows ordinary citizens to gain access to official documents that are not deemed exempt under the legislation. In a bid to establish value for money, our news team asked the foreign affairs and foreign trade ministry to state the total number of trips taken during the two financial years under review, as well as the categories of officers sent on official visits overseas. However, the ministry failed to respond to the queries and as such left the value-for-money question unanswered. Travel & subsistence (H/Q) 2008-092009-10Airfare$25,016,046.12 $9,068,754.61Per diem$15,442,691.90 $8,133,099.91Total$40,458,738.02 $17,201,854.52 – Source: Ministry of Foreign Affairs

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