Time for action, not a bag o’ mouth

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

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The staff at the Auditor General’s Department (AGD) must feel that they’re on a treadmill.

One would think that after years of making recommendations to prevent breaches of government procedures and weak management practices, public sector employees, at all levels, would, by now, be aware of what not to do and avoid being reckless with the country’s resources.

What is particularly disturbing about the latest report tabled by the AGD in Parliament last week is the agency’s estimation that poor governance decisions uncovered in five State entities have cost taxpayers $1.33 billion, while breaches of the Public Bodies Management and Accountability Act and Government Procurement Guidelines have left the public with financial exposure amounting to $313 million.

Among the entities audited for the 2016 calendar year were the Urban Development Corporation (UDC), Ministry of Finance, and the Institute of Sports (INSPORTS).

In relation to the UDC, the Auditor General’s Department said it found breaches of the divestment procedures in its sale of the Oceana Hotel complex in downtown Kingston.

"UDC breached the terms of divestment as outlined in the Requests for Proposals by considering bids that did not provide all the mandatory information; this cast doubt on the objectivity of the decision-making process," the AGD said, noting that the UDC also breached its own Estate Management Policy and Guidelines in relation to valuation reports on the hotel.

As if that were not bad enough, the AGD found that the Finance Ministry’s decision to lease sections of the Oceana Hotel’s ground floor at a price higher than advised by the Commissioner of Lands will now cost the public "an additional $591 million over the lease term".

That lease, we are told, was for space to accommodate the Accountant General’s Department which, to this date, has not moved in despite the ministry admitting to the Public Administration and Appropriations Committee of Parliament that the country would lose $7.5 billion in international funding if the Accountant General’s Department did not relocate from its current premises by the end of 2016 to facilitate the Justice Square project.

Then comes the kicker in this sordid mess — "the leased premises remain unoccupied and $75.77 million have been accumulated in rent up to February 2017", the AGD informs us.

When you add to that a report in this newspaper this week that the finance ministry is spending $478 million to renovate the rented space and, as far as we are aware, will not recover that money, you have to wonder about the ability of the people who are responsible for managing these entities.

Added to all that is the madness that prevails at INSPORTS, an entity that the AGD tells us has never submitted annual reports, and which took the decision to re-engage the services of nine retired officers without approval from the Ministry of Finance between June 2013 and February 2015.

As we have stated in this space before, these breaches have been taking place for decades and very little, if anything, is done about them. That includes a failure to sanction the people guilty of these despicable acts.

Last year, Information Minister Senator Ruel Reid sought to assure the country that the Government will go after people who break the rules. It is past time for action, not a bag o’ mouth.




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