Charity Begins At Home?
Questions Arise Surrounding Recent Donations By Jamaica's Opposition Leader Mark Golding.
In solidarity with some dissatisfied public sector workers over their treatment by the government amid an almost 200% salary increase recently granted to members of parliament, Jamaica’s Opposition Leader Mark Golding said last month he had donated 80% of his salary increase to “worthy causes” -- approximately $5.4 million.
In a related release, his People’s National Party (PNP) referenced the $5.4 million amount and stated that, “The donations have been allocated to the following charities: Missionaries of the Poor; Mustard Seed Communities; Food for the Poor; Joy Town Community Development Foundation; OT Fairclough Trust Fund; Jamaica Paralympic Association.” It added that by directing his financial resources toward these organizations, Mr. Golding “aims to make a meaningful impact on the lives of vulnerable individuals and marginalized communities.”
But questions are being raised about the decision by Mr. Golding to donate to the OT Fairclough Trust Fund, which was launched by Mr. Golding himself to benefit PNP party workers. There’s also limited transparency around the trust since it’s not registered at the Companies Office of Jamaica.
What’s more, 18º North has recently learned that of the roughly $5.4 million stated by the PNP to have gone to the six charities, more than $1 million went elsewhere, casting doubt about the fullness of Mr. Golding’s statement and the PNP’s media release.
What Was Suggested Versus What’s Actually Being Done
The discrepancy became apparent when 18º North began quizzing Mr. Golding on how much of the approximately $5.4 million was donated to each charity. Mr. Golding refused to do so, claiming, “I do not have the permission of the receiving donee institutions to do that.”
18º North then began reaching out to the institutions themselves for answers on the morning of Tuesday, June 20th.
Except for Missionaries of the Poor, which indicated that it had received $1 million from Mr. Golding, the other institutions either didn’t respond or didn’t disclose the information. Major Richard Cooke of the Joy Town Community Development Foundation that primarily does work in Mr. Golding’s constituency in the community of Trench Town said he’d have to check with Mr. Golding first, but he didn’t call back. (Almost three weeks later, 18º North called to follow up and was told to speak with Mr. Golding.)
Then on Wednesday, June 21, Mr. Golding wrote to 18º North offering to break down the general categories of his spending and outlining, for the first time, that not all of the money went to institutional donees.
He detailed that $6,771,303 was the total retroactive pay increase he had received, which means that 80% would be $5,417,042. He said of that, $4.2 million was donated to the institutions. $252,000 went to “items for public hospital”, which he later clarified was the Kingston Public Hospital; and $965,425 was allocated toward billboards of young achievers in Trench Town and Jones Town. Both communities are situated in Mr. Golding’s South St. Andrew constituency.
Mr. Golding explained that the billboards, “which have been commissioned and are being made,” will show inspiring images of outstanding achievers from those communities like recording artistes, Laa Lee and Nesbeth, and footballer, Shamar Nicholson. He outlined that the aim of the billboards is to promote self-confidence and self-belief among young people. “The billboards will not bear my name nor reference me, and will not be politically branded,” Mr. Golding stated.
When asked why he didn’t tell the public before now about the billboards, Mr. Golding responded, “I didn’t think it made sense to mention them prior to them existing. They represent less than 20% of what was given away.”
However, he expressed that all the expenditures made are on worthy causes, “which is the commitment I made.” In his video release, Mr. Golding did say that he donated $5,417,000 to worthy causes, “including” the charities. He told 18º North that if the PNP release gave the impression that the charities were the only beneficiaries, “that was an error and is regretted.”
The Reaction to the Disparity.
But when told that more than $1.2 million of the $5.4 million went to unannounced causes, political commentator, Peter Espeut, said “there’s some dissembling” because “that’s not the impression that was given.”
He added that even if Mr. Golding erects a billboard without his name on it, people in the community will know and “it’s still going to redound to his benefit.”
Indeed, a tweet surfaced on July 6 after the boards were erected crediting Mr. Golding for the billboards despite each sign being stamped with a message “BOARD DONATED BY Arnett Gardens FC”, which is the football club in Mr. Golding’s constituency of which he is chairman. Peter Thelwell, general manager and director of the club, told 18º North that while the club owns the billboard spaces and he endorses the idea, the club didn’t pay for the designs and printing of the billboards. “His [Mr. Golding’s] PR team handled everything.” He said he’s not sure why the club was named as the donor of the boards. (Mr. Golding’s PR team later clarified it was because the club donated the board space, which it did.)
Reaction to the Donation to the OT Fairclough Trust
On the donation to the OT Fairclough Trust, though a separate entity from the PNP, Mr. Espeut wrote, “I do not consider donations to that trust to be “charitable” in the same sense as Mustard Seed. It is a political donation – to his party.”
“The idea was that poor people would benefit,” he said. “Not PNP.”
The OT Fairclough Trust Fund was launched in December 2020 by Mr. Golding to assist struggling PNP party workers.
It was one of the first initiatives he delivered on when he emerged from a hotly-contested election as the party president. That contest between him and Lisa Hanna further divided the PNP, which had already been split after a colleague of Mr. Golding’s, fellow MP Peter Bunting, had challenged then-president Dr. Peter Phillips for the post in September 2019 and lost.
Lifelong PNP supporter Gladstone Thompson, Jr., also known as Junior Socrates, who sided with Dr. Phillips and Lisa Hanna in each contest and doesn’t support Mr. Golding, said the recent donation by Mr. Golding to the OT Fairclough Trust is merely a way “to buy loyalty with the workers to help people forget about the division they created in the party.”
Though acknowledging that Mr. Golding has the right to donate to whomever he wants, he questioned, “Does he have the right to use his money to manipulate or deceive people?”
It may be too early to know if the donations will help Mr. Golding politically.
But a poll commissioned by the PNP and conducted by noted pollster Don Anderson between June 8-14, around the time when Mr. Golding announced the donations, showed that while the PNP party he leads is gaining more ground on the ruling Jamaica Labour Party (JLP), Mr. Golding’s favorability rating declined to 12.1% from 14.7% in February.
Are there other donors to the OT Fairclough Trust?
Mr. Golding also appears to be the only benefactor of the trust, seeding it with $15 million of his own money, which he confirmed to 18⁰ North was a gift to the trust, not a loan. But, according to the treasurer of the trust in an interview last year, Kisha Anderson, who is also the treasurer of the PNP, that donation, at the time, was the only one received as the trust had “not started fundraising efforts yet.” Though Mr. Golding says he believes there may have been other donors, the chairwoman of the trust, Katrin Casserly, confirmed last week that what Ms. Anderson had told 18º North last year still stands and that they’re working on a fundraiser for October 2023.
Ms. Casserly wouldn’t disclose how much has been spent from the trust so far, saying only that the trust has completed a housing project and is embarking on two others presently. She also said they’ve had two rounds of scholarship grants. One event of the trust last year attended by 18º North at the party’s headquarters gave out bursaries totaling about $600,000 to high school and tertiary students, who were family members of party workers.
The OT Fairclough Trust Fund isn’t registered at the Companies Office of Jamaica, but the trust deed is registered at the Registrar General’s Department (RGD).
That means that, unlike the other donee organizations that are registered at Companies Office and are required to file annual returns and financial statements that then become open to the public, the OT Fairclough Trust doesn’t have these filing requirements. This was in part why Mr. Golding said he chose to establish the entity as a trust with its own governance structure, rather than a company, “because the upfront and annual costs and bureaucratic requirements of incorporation would be more burdensome.”
But that means there’s limited transparency about how this trust operates or whether Mr. Golding’s funds were even received.
Indeed, when asked about the amount recently donated by Mr. Golding, Ms. Casserly would only say in an email, “Yes indeed, OTF Trust Fund did receive a personal donation.” However, she wrote, “It is not our policy to disclose amounts received from individual donors.”
The RGD says any member of the public can get a copy of the OT Fairclough trust deed, which may show the objectives of the trust, the persons behind the trust and its value, which is updated only if the trustees want to do so. It said to obtain a copy of the trust deed costs close to $18,000, which is out of the range that this publication can afford to pay for a single document.
In addition to the retroactive pay he got, Mr. Golding says he’s now received his monthly increase, 80% of which is approximately $583,000. He wrote last week, “I will be spending it on worthy causes to be identified over the next four weeks.”
Mr. Golding says it’s unlikely that the same organizations will receive support next time around. He says he will continue making these donations until he’s satisfied that “the main issues of concern affecting the rank-and-file public sector workers have been addressed.”
*Unlike the other charities, one of the other non-profits Mr. Golding donated to, Jamaica Paralympic Association, doesn’t have any financials on file at the Companies Office though it is required to have them. It has, however, met some of the filing requirements that include reporting quarterly on its spending of government funds with the public body, Sports Development Foundation (SDF), copies of which the SDF says can be made available to the public upon request. The SDF says, however, that the quarterly reports wouldn’t include monies received from outside the government, like Mr. Golding’s donation. That information is supposed to be enclosed in an annual audit, which the Paralympic Association has not been filing. Efforts to get a comment from the Paralympic Association were not successful.