KINGSTON – Government has approved a cap of $40,000 on the monthly mobile and closed user group phone bills of Cabinet ministers as part of a new interim policy following public outcry after news broke last month that Finance Minister Audley Shaw had racked up an $8 million bill during the course of one year.
It is also being contemplated to have ministers make retroactive payments on excessive phone bills, dating back to January of this year, Information Minister Senator Ruel Reid announced yesterday at a post-Cabinet press briefing at Jamaica House.
“If there are any breaches above that [$40,000 monthly], then arrangements will have to be made by respective ministers to pay from their salaries or other arrangements,” Reid said.
He explained that ministers who exceed the $40,000 will have to pay for the excess, but noted that in special circumstances permanent secretaries can approve bills that go beyond the established limit. “Based on our survey of rates, usage, we expect you would have voice charges, data charges, opportunities [to use] Wi-Fi, roaming charges, etc. . . . certainly $40,000 is a reasonable amount. Cabinet reviewed the proposal and we agreed on that,” he said.
Prime Minster Andrew Holness ordered an audit and the capping of mobile phone bills of all Government ministers after news broke about Shaw’s high mobile phone bill last month.
In a statement issued by the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM) in mid-July, Holness said the situation was unacceptable and “must be addressed immediately”.
Coming out of a meeting where Cabinet ministers discussed and reviewed the issue of communication costs, it was acknowledged that there was no standard, clear and consistent policy being applied across Government regarding the treatment of communication expenses for ministers and ministers of state, the OPM said.
Holness had directed the Ministry of Finance to review and report on the respective policies for the provision of communication services, including cellphones, in the various ministries and to advise him within a week on the appropriate amount for the cap to be paid by each minister’s cellular phone bills.
The prime minister said this would allow Cabinet to make a comprehensive decision on how communication services and expenses of the ministries are treated.
Yesterday, the information minister said if ministers act responsibly the $40,000 cap should be sufficient.