RADA defends farm road selection process

RADA defends farm road selection process

BY ALPHEA SAUNDERS
Senior staff reporter
saundersa@jamaicaobserver.com

Friday, January 17, 2020

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REPRESENTATIVES of the Rural Agricultural Development Authority (RADA) on Tuesday sought to give an explanation for issues raised in the auditor general's report on its management of farm roads over the past five years, insisting that the selection process is based on established criteria for the rehabilitation programme.

But Auditor General Pamela Monroe Ellis insisted that RADA had not presented evidence to back up its claims. The testimonies were heard at Gordon House at the first meeting of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) for 2020.

According to the report of the performance audit, which reviewed the fiscal years 2014/15 to 2018/19: RADA's annual budget did not support the maintenance of all farm roads; the farm road selection process, under the Farm Road Rehabilitation Programme, was not transparent; and there was no clear distinction between farm and non-farm roads.

The audit team also said the authority lacked a robust farm road management system, and that inspection and monitoring activities did not assure provision of road works consistent with contracts.

The auditor general further outlined that, while RADA established annual priority lists for the selection of farm roads to be rehabilitated, it could not explain the basis for the selection of some farm roads.

On Tuesday, Monroe Ellis said she could not reconcile the explanations given by RADA with the evidence the auditors found.

“There is a difference between what is said and what you provide evidence for. Whereas it is easy to provide representation verbally about a system that exists or should exist, as an auditor I cannot act on verbal representation, I have to be provided with evidence, because once I accept information from the audit team I am, in essence, suggesting that this system is in place. I must have the information to present to the Parliament to satisfy you that I am satisfied that it exists. So it is not sufficient to say what practice should be in place — the information [to support it] must be presented,” she asserted.

The report outlined that RADA submitted an undated list, comprising 408 roads totalling 960 km of the estimated 1,500 km farm roads islandwide, but despite developing a priority list for rehabilitation, the agency could not identify which of the criteria the roads on the list satisfied.

“We were unable to determine whether the stated criteria were utilised in determining the works projects, raising doubts regarding the transparency of the selection process,” the auditors said.

Permanent secretary in the agriculture ministry, Dermon Spence disputed the stated lack of distinction between farm roads and municipal corporation roads, saying it “is a little bit beyond how we view it”.

He pointed out that the criteria for farm roads include a wide range of factors, which is standardised across the island.

“The parochial roads that get intertwined along with the farm roads is consistent with what we have noticed as a changing pattern in the distribution of farming activities with production areas. That is why, arising from the report, the board is now to consider and make a proposal towards a definition, taking into consideration the current dynamics and changing environment,” Spence told the PAC.

He said RADA will be working with the municipal corporations to devise a formula for parochial roads that form a nexus with farm roads. RADA also says that a scoring system is being developed to prioritise the list of farm roads, by March.

The auditor general commissioned the performance audit to determine whether RADA had in place effective systems to provide assurance that the farm road network and related infrastructure are effectively and efficiently managed, and that there is value for funds spent on the rehabilitation works.

“The maintenance of farm roads is linked to the national outcome of rural and agricultural development in Vision 2030 Jamaica, as transportation costs have greatly affected the farmers' access to market, and by extension, Jamaica's food security and environmental sustainability,” Monroe Ellis said in her report overview.

Meanwhile, the audit revealed that RADA did not always implement good governance principles in the management of farm road rehabilitation to enable proper planning and management of its financial resources.

“This was partly reflected in weak procurement management and controls over the execution of contracts demonstrated by instances of unjustified contract variations and road re-work, factors that would have diminished the receipt of value for money,” the auditor general concluded.

RADA has been implementing the Farm Road Rehabilitation Programme since October 2015 for the island's 1,500-km farm road network.


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