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Messy!

AG blasts operations at Administrator General’s Department

BY BALFORD HENRY Senior staff reporter balfordh@jamaicaobserver.com

Thursday, January 02, 2014    

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AUDITOR General Pamela Monroe Ellis has described the Administrator General's Department (AGD) as inefficient and ineffective.

Her opinion was based on a 2012/13 audit of the operations of the AGD, which has been administering the estates of dead Jamaican adults on behalf of their minors, beneficiaries and creditors since 1873.

The audit, which was included in the auditor general's 2012/13 report which was tabled in Parliament last week, found a number of failures, including a huge backlog, dating back as many as 70 years, which could take another five years to be updated at the AGD's current pace.

"As at May 2013, the AGD was administering approximately 8,000 estates, of which 4,332 (54 per cent), valued at approximately $405 million, were categorised as backlog. These 4,332 estates, comprised of cases, dated between 20 to 70 years after the death of the estate owners," she reported.

According to the auditor general, the AGD implemented a project in 2009 in a bid to reduce the backlog, but after four years it was only able to close 1,075 cases, or 19 per cent of the files.

She said that at the current rate of closure, which is 864 per year, it would take the AGD at least five years to clear the existing backlog.

She also pointed to problems with arrears on estate and trust accounts, which have delayed payments to beneficiaries.

"The AGD was in breach of the Administrator General's Act by not updating estates' records on a timely basis," the auditor general said. "As at September 4, 2013, 945 estate accounts were in arrears for periods up to three years. We found that AGD's inability to locate related ledger cards and the volume of transactions being processed manually contributed to the delays in updating the estate accounts," she said. "This will impede the AGD's ability to determine the true value of each estate account in its portfolio at any given time," she added.

The AGD informed the auditor general that, although their policy is to disburse funds only to beneficiaries with updated accounts, beneficiaries whose accounts are in arrears are given advances.

The AGD said, too, that it was conducting a tender process to acquire the trust estate management software to automate its internal business processes to address some of the inefficiencies in the system. The software is expected to process all aspects of the agency's estate administration and it is anticipated that it will facilitate a smoother flow of and easier access to information.

Regarding issues related to tenancy, the auditor general reported that, as at April 2013, 365 (68 per cent) of the tenants occupying dwellings administered by the AGD were in arrears of rental payments for amounts totalling $22 million for periods up to 10 years. Of the $22 million, $4.1 million is deemed unrecoverable, despite legal actions taken by the AGD, as the tenants had no assets to settle their debts.

"We found that AGD was not making any effort to have the tenants evicted from the properties. However, the AGD explained that it might be more beneficial to leave the tenants on the property to avoid vandalism and squatting.

Monroe Ellis recommended that the AGD should ensure stricter adherence to the Administrator General's Act by keeping complete and accurate accounting of all transactions with respect to estates and trusts vested in or administered by the department.

She also encouraged the AGD to complete the proposed acquisition and implementation of the trust and estate management software as soon as possible. In addition, she recommended that the management of the AGD should aggressively pursue delinquent tenants to collect outstanding rent, whilst devising strategies to alleviate vandalism and squatting on the related properties.

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