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Cricket: 'Run wid it again!'
I COULD hardly believe the report in the media that the Cricket World Cup programmed for next year would cost Jamaica US$100 million, that is, J$6.5 billion. In fact, I was shocked in disbelief.
The World Cup extravaganza is an excellent example of small countries with small resources trying to do what big countries do on the same lavish scale in order to show that we can throw a good party too ≠ even if in our case there are massive crowds of poor and vulnerable people locked out at the gate and, the misery will be greater for the likely poor showing of our team.
All this is in order to allow Jamaicans to be spectators at the opening ceremony, some practice and group matches and one semi-final. It seems to me that these are consolation fixtures, the big one, the final, having been scheduled elsewhere.
When the intention to hold the World Cup extravaganza was announced it immediately raised financial concerns in my mind which I began to voice openly. In April, 2004, Dr. Wayne Reid and Mr. Michael Hall, who are involved in this project at very high levels, came to brief me on the programme which would comprise two packages of matches. I reported the outcome of the discussions to the then Prime Minister P.J. Patterson expressing the deep concern of the Opposition in a letter of April 29 as follows:
"There is concern by the Opposition that the US$60 million cost of the two packages will be beyond the reach of the economy to finance. We consider that a frank talk is necessary between representatives of Government and the Opposition to deal with our concerns.
If this is acceptable, I will name two representatives from the Opposition."
This was followed up on May 12 with another letter to the Prime Minister stating:
"I have discussed the matter with Ed Bartlett, Opposition Spokesman on Sports, and Audley Shaw, Opposition Spokesman on Finance, who will be available to meet with your team of two as soon as possible."
I recall that more than one attempt was made to get the parties together but there was always some key person unable to attend. Before I retired from the post of Leader of the Opposition I mentioned to Bruce Golding the need to follow-up this proposed meeting.
From the surprise expressed in Parliament by the Opposition at the Standing Finance Committee, it appears that no meeting was held, hence, the news was breaking for the first time that this little impoverished country would be spending, not the US$60 million which I was told, but US$100 million for an opening ceremony and 11 games of cricket. So what were the watch dogs of the Opposition doing over the past nearly two years in digging out the information on this scandalous level of expenditure as a cost to the public revenue surpassed only by FINSAC?
Where was the Minister of Finance, Dr. Omar Davies, the chief watch dog whose job it is to protect the revenue and to call a halt when expenditure is unaffordable as is his fiduciary duty? Is this another "run wid it"?
The anger I expected to hear from him as a result of this extraordinary and exceptional expenditure was not there at all. Instead, the expenditure was passed off as a worthwhile investment. It would take more than one presentation in this column to list all the far more worthwhile expenditures to which J$6.5 billion could be applied.
When I was first briefed, the US$60 million cost was explained as follows:
Greenfield stadium 30 Sabina Park and other projects 30 Total 60
Of this US$60 million, the Government of China would provide a US$30-million loan for 30 years at a three per cent interest rate to finance the Greenfield stadium and a package of media rights would be sold to an Indian group for US$30 million.
With this recovery from the media rights, the net cost would then be US$30 million which would be covered by the low interest 30-year long term funds from China. Now that the expenditure is to be US$100 million how is the extra financing to be sourced? Is this the final cost or is there more to come?
The Minister of Finance can take little comfort from the arguments being offered on the benefit to the economy in general which will flow from expenditure by the 30,000 visitors expected. In the first place, the World Cup will take place largely during the 'tourist season' when the hotels are full anyway. What will happen is that visitors who follow the World Cup will simply displace the guests from other countries who would normally be visiting at that time.
Tourism receipts will therefore not be affected to any greater extent because of World Cup visitors, except that probably more jerk pork, craft work and beer will be sold.
Even if these World Cup visitors were additional, their total expenditure in foreign exchange (US$666) per head would be US$20 million and the extra revenue to government would be J$234 million, (US$120 per head). These totals are very far removed from fanciful estimate of US$700 million provided by JAMPRO. Indeed, it would require ten times that number of visitors, 300,000 additional to the regular inflows expected at that time of the year, to make any impact at all.
It is important that there is a realistic assessment of the World Cup as an event, not a fanciful one. It should be remembered that every year Jamaica has a short term influx of many thousands of "spring break" college students.
The World Cup is no different, except that the cricket fans will follow more mature entertainment and spend more money. If they enjoy themselves as much as the college students do, then Jamaica will have a new set of admirers with some future spin-off.
The chief organiser of this squandermania is the former Prime Minister Patterson who pursued this project relentlessly as if it would be the key strategy to lift the country out of its stagnant existence of the past 15 years. It is a pity that the same relentless pursuit was not applied to repairing the atrocious conditions of rural and urban roads.
It can be said that this is a gruesome error of mistaken priority. But maybe it is not an error. This expenditure appears to be part of the need to find ways of expressing CARICOM solidarity so as to reinforce the usefulness of that lame association.
This is just one more reason why any programme which it is proposed to pursue with our CARICOM brethren must be examined relentlessly, and in great detail because "playing big" is part of the posture of these 15 relatively small countries. That is why we have an extensive Caribbean Court of Justice with little work to do.
The bottom line of what this extravaganza is really saying is that while we love the poor, we love cricket more.
Edward Seaga is a former Prime Minister. He is now a Distinguished Fellow at the University of the WEST Indies. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org