The recent discovery of high cellphone bills caused largely by data charges is prompting government to examine other areas of service for potential wastage.
Prime Minister and Minister of Finance, Dr the Right Honourable Keith Mitchell disclosed this Tuesday at the weekly post-cabinet press briefing. He said, “When something happens, it may open your eyes and cause you to look at, not just at that issue but other areas of weaknesses that you may be overlooking. Essentially, it has given us an opportunity to assess other areas, like electricity and water, to see if there too, there is wastage.”
Assuring the population that this will not happen again under his watch, Dr Mitchell said, “We must seek to ensure that we are not wasting taxpayers’ money. We are looking at solutions, tighter monitoring and auditing and other areas of controls.”
The Prime Minister reiterated that government has accepted full responsibility but noted that culpability must be shared by accounting officers within the various ministries, as well as the service provider, Digicel.
He, therefore, called for greater accountability in government ministries. “We must all be responsible; if a phone, water or electricity bill comes to your ministry, do not just sign it and send it on for payment. When we get our bills at home, we check them, therefore if costs go up we can recognise that immediately. Similarly too, when dealing with government bills, we must check closely to identify variances and correct them.”
Since the irregularities with the government’s cellphone bill were identified following inquiries made by the Prime Minister in the Ministry of Finance, several steps have been taken to correct the situation.
Persons who are no longer eligible for inclusion on the government’s cellphone plan have been removed and arrangements are being finalised with these persons for repayment of money that was spent on the service during the period of ineligibility.
Going forward, a comprehensive plan will be put in place to ensure there are proper controls for the use of government-issued cellphones in the first instance, and subsequently for landlines as well and making long-distance calls. The draft policy and procedures on cellphones is also being reviewed.
Government also continues to engage with Digicel to address the high bills to ensure that the agreed-upon data cap is instituted.