This post is the second instalment in a two-part series. The first part is here.
The nonprofit Jamaica Accountability Meter Portal (JAMP), an innovative website that gives ordinary citizens the ability to track government performance by giving them more intimate access to their parliamentary representatives, is beginning to transform how Jamaicans interact with their government.
The idea, launched by Jeanette Calder, expands knowledge of how elected officials are supposed to work for their constituents.
In the JAMP model, users — which include everyone from individuals and civil society organisations to members of the press and even the government itself — engage with an Account-A-Meter which monitors breaches of policy or law, and gives site visitors direct access to accountability officers. An MP [Minister of Parliament] Tracker brings constituents into closer contact with their parliamentary representatives and allows citizens to assess their performance, and a real-time Legislative Tracker monitors the progression of bills through the parliament and facilitates direct communication with representatives.
At her office in Kingston, Calder and I talked about how her activism was integral to birthing JAMP and how excited she is — despite scepticism and concerns that Jamaica is trending toward systemic corruption — about the positive changes the website can help create.
GV: How did your experience in advocacy help you in JAMP's development?
JC: I got involved with the Jamaica Civil Society Coalition (JCSC). I was impacted by what I saw at these meetings. Citizens with a high level of expertise, collaborating monthly on a range of governance issues and in many instances, successfully influencing government policy. I learned that our political leaders are more responsive than I thought and that advocacy is far more than a mere radio or TV interview. A lot of work happens behind the scenes. The door was opened for my contribution, as many procurement concerns were coming up; that was my area and I was passionate about it. I still am. We all have different tools as citizens, but from the JCSC I learned to use research-based advocacy. And as I moved from co-executive director at JCSC to becoming the founder and executive director at JAMP, research remains at the core of our approach.
EL: What was a watershed moment for you?
JC: I was aggrieved about the Outameni issue. [The Outameni Experience was a privately owned, loss-making tourism attraction in western Jamaica]. I heard the prime minister say, “I am not firing the board because they did not commit a crime.” This statement changed my life! A message that accountability in the public sector would be limited to criminal activities was alarming. I created flyers, posters and we held a protest in Emancipation Park in November 2014. I encouraged the Jamaican diaspora to write a sign and upload it on social media. They were there in spirit. Members of the Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica attended. Soon after, the then-prime minister [Portia Simpson Miller] changed her mind — a compromise, really. She committed to having the board resign and changing the board.
Our signs said things like: “What is Jamaica worth to you?” “Accountability is the key to progress.”
The Auditor General produced a report in April 2015 on the Outameni issue — $4 billion Jamaican dollars worth of questionable investments. My mouth fell wide open. Government spends approximately $2.5 billion on watchdog agencies. Are we getting value for money?
EL: How is JAMP funded?
JC: It is funded by the European Union in Jamaica. The Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica helped us implement the project, so, JAMP is now undertaken in partnership with PSOJ. It was through initial support from the PSOJ that JAMP received $6 million Jamaican dollars [approximately $44,900 United States dollars] in seed funding from six private companies to complete the design and creation of the website that now houses our database.
In 2016, the EU funded some research that the JCSC conducted on accountability in government. We came up with really powerful findings and recommendations. It seemed wrong to just put it on the shelf and move on. That year, I also produced Jamaica’s first citizen’s budget. It provided a clear picture [of the purpose, procedure, rules and inner workings of the national Budget. I wanted to empower citizens to learn what I had learned.
It was important to get buy-in from key stakeholders. I went to the Access to Information Unit at the office of the prime minister, the Auditor General, the public accounts committee. The Press Association of Jamaica was also very supportive.
GV: I hear you are writing a play about the period in Jamaican history that inspired you?
JC: Yes, it is set in the 1930s — I am on Act Three! I want to tell the stories about the people of that period of dramatic change: Walter Roberts and others who are not well known, such as the “soup lady” who became an activist during the dock workers’ strike that year Agnes Bernard and others. I have realised we are too reactive; we need to plan and prepare. I thought those people from the past were telling me, “Go on and finish the job!” so I keep them with me along the journey.
EL: What are the next steps for JAMP?
JC: We have the basic tool up [and running]. We are only tracking three key performance indicators for MPs; we have a fourth in the making, with two more to come by the end of the year.
There is a concern about the management of public boards, many of which are self-financing. There is one agency of government right now that does not have a board. How is that possible? We will be examining the boards and checking boxes.
Someone wanted to know [about] MPs filing their returns on campaign funding with the Electoral Commission of Jamaica after an election. So now we will be talking with the ECJ to find out who is compliant.
All you have to do is ask us [and] we will start tracking it. Citizens can complain [or] make suggestions, and we will follow up.
EL: Do you feel proud, now that JAMP has been born?
JC: I don’t think of JAMP as my idea. It has just been birthed.
I had one last question to ask myself before we started: I learned from the life of Marcus Garvey that you can come up with a good idea but if you don’t have the support, maybe it’s too soon. Timing is everything and I am convinced that the time for JAMP is now.