Ignorance of data charges ran up finance minister's cellphone bill
AUDLEY Shaw, his voice breaking with emotion and embarrassment, disclosed yesterday that he had paid $2.568 million from his pocket and secured a discount of $1.019 million from his cellphone service provider, after news of his $8.34-million phone bill hit the airwaves.
Shaw, the finance minister, was speaking to Nationwide's Cliff Hughes yesterday, a day after RJR — using the Access to Information Act — reported his unusually high bill for the period April 2016 to March 2017.
He said the $3.574 million shaved off the bill represented some personal calls while the rest was for the conduct of government business, which was collaborated by the Ministry of Finance in the information released to RJR.
Shaw insisted, however, that had the limit placed on cellphone usage during his first tenure as finance minister between 2007 and 2011 remained, bills for ministers and other government servants could no way have reached such high figures.
And Shaw said had the bills been brought to his attention before the Access to Information request, something would have been done about it.
“I regret this most unfortunate issue and I took personal responsibility to seek a discount and to pay back [a portion of bills) I was personally responsible for,” Shaw told the talk show host yesterday. “I do profoundly regret what has happened,” he added.
At the same time, he noted that a large portion of the bills had charges for data while roaming as he was unaware that the data service was not turned off while travelling. The personal portion related to use of his phone when his wife was in hospital for surgery. He said she is now doing well. “Thank God.”
According to the finance minister, the new protocol going forward is not only for a cap to be placed on phones assigned to government servants, all will be required to turn off mobile data service when travelling overseas on Government business and use WiFi.
The highest bill for the period was for $4,220,814.11 when he was out of the country attending meetings of the World Bank, International Monetary Fund (IMF) and other stakeholders.
Said the Ministry of Finance: “The magnitude of Minister Shaw's phone bill charges were brought to his attention only when the financial secretary advised him of the ATI request on March 31, 2017. Once the minister was aware of the high costs, he ordered an analysis/investigation to determine if there were any discrepancies in the amount billed. A query was raised with the service provider and they subsequently advised that the charges were accurate and resulted from data usage while roaming.
“For the months of August and November 2016, when charges exceeded $1 million, there were several instances of official and urgent personal overseas travel by the minister. At that time he was integrally involved in finalising arrangements of the Precautionary Standby Agreement with the IMF and would have led to an increase of data usage during the period.
”Nevertheless, the minister insisted that the charges seemed unusually high. An inspection of the minister's mobile phone revealed that inadvertently the mobile data roaming settings were not adjusted for use over WiFi. Once realised, the necessary adjustments were made to the settings of the device.”
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