NHT’s board mandated to submit all minutes to OPM

NHT’s board mandated to submit all minutes to OPM

Friday, June 26, 2015

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PERMANENT Secretary in the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM) Onika Miller said the National Housing Trust has now been mandated to submit the minutes of all its board meetings.


This comes months after the Outameni/ National Housing Trust (NHT) firestorm saw her revealing that she knew nothing of the transaction.


The chief accounting officer in the OPM came under heavy criticism late last year, when she told the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) of Parliament that she had been in the dark about the NHT's purchase of the Outameni/Orange Grove property in Trelawny, which subsequently plunged the agency into controversy. The OPM has portfolio responsibility for the NHT.


At a sitting of the PAC on Tuesday, the chief accounting officer stressed that the directive has in fact been issued to all public bodies, which fall under the OPM. She noted again that at no point before the Outameni issue arose had she received minutes of meetings from the NHT's board, nor from any other agency of the OPM for that matter.


"I have since instructed the NHT and the heads of all agencies falling under the OPM to provide minutes, and have brought the matter to the chairpersons of all the entities and have gone further to require additional reporting requirements of the NHT in light of the findings of the performance audit," she stated.


At the same time, in response to the auditor general's finding that she had not requested copies of the minutes, as stipulated by the accountability framework for senior executive officers, Miller insisted that the onus is on the public bodies' board, to submit the minutes.


"The accountability framework indicates that the permanent secretary 'shall receive' -- the action would therefore be binding on the sender, not the recipient," she said but assured that she has now taken steps to reinforce that requirement.


Committee chairman Audley Shaw said there was no need for any changes to be made to the policy as "they (public bodies) are required to submit, and once the framework says they are required to submit, then the accounting officer must infer from that that they must fulfil the requirement".


Still, Miller argued that the minutes by themselves was not a silver bullet for accountability. "It (accountability) is part of a broad suite of actions that we are engaged in. I have a management team that works very closely with the NHT and with the management teams of all the portfolio entities," she told the PAC.


In the meantime, the issue of resources was raised, with committee members questioning whether it was fair to expect permanent secretaries to examine the board meeting minutes of all the entities for which they are responsible.


Auditor General Pamela Monroe-Ellis contended that she could not make any excuses for non-compliance.


"I will not seek to present an argument to rationalise non-compliance. I cannot do that. Whether it's practical or impractical is a factor that the creator of these frameworks must take into consideration, and so that responsibility lies with the Ministry of Finance and the Cabinet office. It should not be a point of application of the very provision that the matter of practicality is taken into consideration," she asserted.


Miller agreed that there was a difficulty in fully complying with the provisions of the framework, further stating that other permanent secretaries faced similar capacity and resource constraints. She said that while the corporate governance framework which was introduced in 2012 had "great ambitions", there were simply not enough resources to execute them.


"We were not able to provide all the resources that were intended, to be able to allow for full implementation, so whilst we have rules and principles, we have not been able to keep apace to provide the roll-out of the requisite tools, and those have hampered a smooth and effective implementation across all ministries, departments and agencies," she said.



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