PAC dissatisfied with OPM's advice on oversight of board under its authority

PAC dissatisfied with OPM's advice on oversight of board under its authority

BY BALFORD HENRY Senior staff reporter

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

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PARLIAMENT'S Public Accounts Committee (PAC) says it is not satisfied that the advice issued by the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM) in June on minutes of meetings of boards under its authority, that were to be submitted to its permanent secretary.

The PAC, in a report tabled in the House of Representatives last week Tuesday, said that it was concerned about the practicability of the requirement for the permanent secretary to effectively exercise this responsibility, and suggested that the matter be brought to the attention of the Cabinet secretary.

The OPM issued the advice on the minutes of all meetings of its departments and agencies that were to be submitted to the chief accounting officer after its former permanent secretary, Onika Miller, came under heavy criticism from the PAC late last year for allegedly ignoring the activities of the board of the National Housing Trust (NHT).

Miller told the PAC that she had been in the dark about the board's decision to purchase the Outameni/Orange Grove property in Trelawny, which subsequently plunged the agency into controversy. The OPM has portfolio responsibility for the NHT.

She noted that at no point before the Outameni issue arose, had she received any minutes of meetings from the NHT's board, nor from any other agency of the OPM, for that matter.

However, the PAC said in its 2015 report that its members expressed concern about the practicality of such a requirement for permanent secretaries in general, and their ability to effectively exercise any form of accountability through the review of these minutes, given the number of entities under their portfolio and other responsibilities that they are required to carry out.

The report said that the PAC members were informed that although rules and principles have been introduced through the Corporate Governance Framework and the Accountability Framework, "their smooth and effective implementation across ministries/departments/agencies (MDAs) have been hampered by the fact that the resources and requisite tools have not been provided".

Miller told the PAC then that the directive had been issued to all public bodies which fall under the OPM.

She admitted that there was a difficulty in fully complying with the provisions of the framework, stating that other permanent secretaries faced similar capacity and resource constraints.

She said that while the corporate governance framework, 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 stated.

Miller has since resigned as permanent secretary in the OPM, but the PAC has recommended that her successor bring the issues to the attention of the Cabinet secretary so that corrective action can be taken.

The Public Bodies Management and Accountability (PMBA) Act says that the permanent secretary, as the chief accounting officer, shall receive board minutes and corporate plans for public bodies that shall be submitted for approval to the portfolio minister, through the responsible permanent secretary.

This is to complement the powers conferred on the responsible minister under the PMBA Act to allow for more effective policy oversight.


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