Two days ago, at 10:44 a.m. on July Wednesday, July 25, an email reached the Barbados TODAY inbox with the subject line, Live Broadcast: Prime Minister’s Budget Address.
It seemed a bit strange, not only because Prime Minister Mia Mottley had delivered her Budget presentation more than six weeks earlier, but because it had come from Charles Jong, the man whose installation to the post of director of communications for the Government – and by extension, the people – of Barbados, was revealed as something of an afterthought in a Barbados Government Information Service release on Ms Mottley’s participation in the recent Caribbean Community summit in Jamaica.
Surely, Mr Jong, the communications and internet technology guru that he is, would have known that the Budget had long been presented and the austerity measures announced in it were already beginning to sting the proletariat.
Imagine the surprise when it turned out that our director of communications, paid for by the financially struggling Barbadian taxpayer who is already called upon to put what we do not have into an obese Cabinet, was working for another government.
“The Prime Minister and Minister for Finance of the Government of the Commonwealth of Dominica will deliver the 2018/2019 Budget Address, today, Wednesday, July 25th, 2019. The House of Assembly will convene at 10 a.m. but the Budget Address will be preceded by an address by His Excellency the President of Dominica.
“You may watch live coverage on local television . . .,” the message in the body of the email said.
“Happy viewing! Regards, Charles R. Jong,” it concluded, followed by a Barbados telephone number.
With this development, Ms Mottley has some serious questions to answer, and, unlike the smokes and mirrors she performed in her recent nationally televised interview with David Ellis, we want her to be transparent, not cloud the issue in smoke.
We want to know how much Mr Jong is being paid by the Barbadian taxpayer, what it is he really does, why we must foot the bill for work he does for the government of Dominica, how many more governments he works for at present and why our director of communications is being allowed to work for other governments. And, Ms Mottley, flashing a book of files about the number of consultants hired by the last administration will not cut it. Neither will banalities such as the former general secretary of the Democratic Labour Party being paid almost 50 per cent more.
We have no doubt Mr Jong is good at what he does. The problem is, we do not know what he does, for in the 25 days since that BGIS release, there has not been a single thing to which we can point that he has done for the people of Barbados, the people who pay his salary.
Little is known of Mr Jong, who to the Barbadian public is as mysterious as Johann Georg Schrepfer, the German necromancer who gave is the concept of smokes and mirrors.
However, the little that we know suggests the St Kitts and Nevis national has the tendency to divide opinions and is quite partisan.
His current LinkedIn profile lists him as a communications consultant with the government of Dominica since November, 2013, having worked as a communications consultant in the office of the prime minister of St Kitts and Nevis for nearly 11 years until May 2015, and a marketing and communications consultant for the Barbados Labour Party between October 2013 and May 2018, among others. Interestingly, it says nothing about being director of communications for the Barbados Government. On this, Ms Mottley needs to clear the air of the acrid smoke that is choking it.
In Dominica, Mr Jong was accused by the opposition of being paid an annual salary of EC$96,000 “to engage in IT warfare against the citizens of the Commonwealth of Dominica”, meaning the opposition, on behalf of the governing Dominica Labour Party.
We will not republish some of the other practices he was accused of being engaged in on behalf of the ruling party there, but a simple Google search will reveal it.
And in St Kitts, he was sued for defamation by the then leader of the opposition party, now the prime minister, Dr Timothy Harris. We were unable to verify the results of that lawsuit.
We are not looking for any auguries here, but Ms Mottley would do well to explain to us why she has chosen Mr Jong as director of communications without first advertising the post. Yes, we know she told Mr Ellis he would be on contract, but we still need to know whether or not he will be working for us, or for the Barbados Labour Party.
Ms Mottley campaigned on a platform of transparency, and, to her credit, she has held more news conferences in her brief tenure thus far, that former Prime Minister Freundel Stuart probably did during the entire period he occupied the office.
However, news conferences and interviews do not necessarily translate into openness, and in the case of Mr Jong, she has been as transparent as mud.
If she doesn’t come clean on his appointment, it will demonstrate that a gap has opened up between the transparency she promised us and what she is delivering now that she hold power. This is the testing moment when we will find out if it were a promise built on a solid foundation, or one written in the sand to be blown away at the whims of political convenience.