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JUTC needs to be run as a business, not a political trough

Friday, July 31, 2020

Here we go again.

Like old man river, the losses, wanton waste, and corruption at the State-owned Jamaica Urban Transit Company (JUTC) just keep rolling along.

No one is held to account, no one is prosecuted for the mephitic madness that has plagued this company since its inception in 1999. Each audit of the company uncovers weaknesses in its governance practices, but very little, if anything, is done to address the issues, so those responsible simply press the gas pedal.

Mr Douglas Chambers, during his stint as JUTC chairman, tried to put an end to the plunder. It cost him is life, as he was gunned down in 2008. We remember well the crocodile tears shed over his body by some who nurtured the slackness and theft that have stained the company.

In 2017, the Jamaica Public Bodies Estimates of Revenue and Expenditure tabled in Parliament stated that the JUTC was expected to end the 2017/2018 financial year with a loss of just over $4.5 billion. The final figure, we are told, was $7.2 billion. Now we hear that the estimated losses for last year was $8.1 billion.

On Tuesday this week, Auditor General Pamela Monroe Ellis tabled her department's performance review of the bus company for the period April 2014 to March 2019. The review identified breaches and issues related to procurement and inventory management. It also found multiple instances of human resource management irregularities that had not been addressed by the board.

The JUTC, she reported, had breached Ministry of Finance guidelines by having an unapproved staff capacity costing an accumulated $1.15 billion that was not leveraged for operational efficiency.

Additionally, the company exceeded its overtime budget by $728.6 million. Overtime claims, the auditor general reported, ranged between 71 per cent and 182 per cent of some employees' annual salaries, with overtime hours ranging from 1,200 hours to a high of 2,200 hours annually.

The review also uncovered that the board breached the Government's motor vehicle guidelines by authorising car rental payments of US$2,400 monthly, effective May 20, 2016, for a car utilised by the acting managing director without approval from the finance ministry. “This resulted in total charges of $1.2 million for 114 calendar days,” the auditor general stated.

As if all that were not enough, the review uncovered several instances in which people were employed in positions for which they were not qualified, and the vacancies had never been advertised. These included a managing director who was employed with a high school diploma, even though the post required a postgraduate degree in management/industrial engineering or equivalent qualifications.

It can't be stated often enough that the JUTC is really a political pork barrel used by successive governments to feed their loyal supporters.

The pious statements emanating from those who themselves are guilty of presiding over the ruin that is now the JUTC should be treated with the disdain they deserve.

We reiterate our recommendation that the Government needs to seek assistance from individuals who are skilled at running businesses to oversee the operations of the JUTC. Then, it needs to take the hard decision to rid the company of political hacks who are there unjustly collecting public money.