Dr John Lennon, Founder of Let's Build a Better Jamaica highlights the corruptive obstacles he has faced when addressing matters of climate and sustainability in Jamaica
I think most of us agree that to create a fairer world corruption and mismanagement of the public purse must be eradicated. This fight is led by the UN and Transparency International (TI). Quoting TI:
"Transparency is about shedding light on rules, plans, processes and action".
To fight climate change the UN also wants a transition to green energy - UN Calls Upon Member States to Pursue Ambitious Climate Action.
The cost of solar panels has plummeted but this fact seems to have eluded the UN and the mainstream news media. The payback periods are now quite remarkable - in the US it is only 6-8 years - but the economic viability of solar power is not used as a selling point in the fight against the proliferation of 'clean' Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG). So how can the man in the street demand change when he still perceives solar power as an expensive green luxury and does not hear about the possible tangible benefits? This is where transparency is needed.
This includes how taxpayers money is used i.e. audits. Since schools operate during daylight hours is it prudent to keep them on the grid? Why not consider repaying 10 year loans instead of indefinitely paying electricity bills? Mortgages instead of rent.
Jamaica's electricity rates amongst the highest in the world and solar investment has payback periods under 4 years. In 2014 the Grand Palladium Resort came off the grid and reported such figures. Two high schools share a partially solar powered existence and both reported payback figures under a year. Whilst I find the school figures questionable, one would have expected the ministries of education, finance and energy to immediately descend on the schools to carryout audits.
However, no audits have been reported so there is no transparency surrounding the viability of solar powered educational institutions, public buildings and streetlights.
One rule is the human right to free, quality education. However, astronomical electricity bills have left schools destitute which negatively affects the quality of education and forces schools to charge fees. If transparency existed the people would know that solar power could eliminate schools fees and deliver better education. They would be able to demand audits and their human right to free education.
I emailed my findings to an economics professor and he wrote the following:
Given your figures, it certainly seems like the facts are on your side, I can't come up with any solid logic for keeping schools on the grid given these numbers.
The grand plan is for private sector investment but the scheme for schools is immoral. The investors will borrow the money, repay it from the lease payments and pocket profit. So the schools should borrow the money, make repayments - not service indefinite lease payments -save money and own the facility. No middlemen are needed.
It is a magnificent scheme for enrichment because the government only wants to save between 40-70%. Consider Ardenne: It's bills were $32,000 and needs $320,000to be off the grid. If the goal was to cut costs by 70% Ardenne would pay the investor $9,600 per month (30% of the average bills) so around $115,000 per annum. If the agreement was for 40% the investors would make around $230,000. Those are 36% and 72% annual returns respectively. No independent audit has been done, so where is the transparency?
I contacted our major news channels but there has been no action, no transparency. These stories and policies should be headlines. Jamaicans get their news with their ears but nothing is reported over the airwaves.
To get an independent opinion I contacted members of a branch of UNA-UK and this was their comment:
The idea has potential financial, educational and of course environmental impact. Rolled out across the tropical world and indeed elsewhere it could reduce school fees and boost access to education (especially for girls), reduce carbon footprints and set an example for non-educational sectors to emulate.
I sent my findings to the Jamaican chapter of TI, the National Integrity Action (NIA). They did nothing. Although aware of my experiences with the media, I was told to write a 'pithy' letter to the newspapers. That was it. My concerns about Ardenne and the private investment scheme were ignored. It appears nothing I reported was in the public interest. This is Jamaican transparency.
Corruption is ubiquitous in Jamaica so I was not surprised at the response, unaccountability is the norm. I submitted a complaint to the head office of TI in May 2018. It was acknowledged but over the course of a year all subsequent requests for feedback were ignored. I submitted a more detailed complaint in June 2019 and after numerous emails and phone calls for a resolution I received a terse response with this conclusion:
NIA had decided that they are unable to take on this case and have informed you accordingly. In doing so, NIA has complied with our guidelines and standards.
TI advocates for the use of audits in the fight against corruption but did not show any interest in how the people's money is used. TI also assumes that the NIA is free of interference from parliamentarians. The head of the NIA was a major political figure.
The roles of the UN and TI must be questioned. Who holds them to account? The vast majority of people, including climate change deniers, want governments to be prudent and if the benefits were reported -solar powered schools could deliver free and better education - they would demand action. We will never have change if organisations such as TI and the UN are opaque and unaccountable.
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