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AG report slams Jamaica Library Service

Senior staff reporter

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

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THE Jamaica Library Service (JLS), for which the already scandal-plagued Education Ministry has responsibility, has been rapped by Auditor General Pamela Monroe Ellis in a recently completed performance audit.

In her report she cited a litany of examples that painted a picture of less than vigorous accounting procedures.

The audit revealed that the JLS board had failed in their duty to prepare yearly annual reports and financial statements, leaving unanswered questions about how billions of dollars were spent.

“JLS breached statutory regulations by its failure to submit to the responsible minister the required annual reports since 2014-15. JLS received budgetary support of $4.7 billion, between 2014-15 and 2018-19, and collected revenue from income-generating activities for which there were no audited financial statements to explain how these monies were spent,” the report said.

“Its non-submission of the annual reports and audited financial statements for five years diminished the level of oversight that Parliament could provide, and the process of holding management accountable for their performance. This was exacerbated by a weak internal control function, given that there was no evidence that JLS internal audit unit conducted any reviews of the operations of JLS head office within the last seven years, 2012 to 2019,” auditors further found.

The auditor general also pointed to challenges in obtaining clear information about the JLS payroll.

She said while the JLS employed and appointed individual employees in various posts upon the approval of the Ministry of Finance and the Public Service (MoFPS), the MoFPS is yet to finalise and approve a list of established posts for JLS, a necessary first step in maintaining recruitment and payroll control.

“JLS payroll summary for November 2019 indicated that 724 employees where paid salaries and travelling allowances totalling $49 million. However, upon repeated requests for a current staff list, JLS provided three lists, which were either inaccurate or incomplete,” she said.

The auditor general said in December 2019, JLS provided another list that indicated 844 employees, revealing a major disparity with the payroll summary.

“In light of the decline in library usage, we expected JLS to assess its workload utilisation to determine staffing levels and performance for efficient and cost-effective service delivery,” she noted, adding that JLS did not have contracts in place to govern the provision of security services at its head office and two other locations.

According to the report, JLS engaged three security companies without written contracts and made payments totalling $20.6 million between April 2016 to August 2019. JLS action to engage the suppliers using the direct contracting methodology was in breach of Section 1.1.4 of the procurement guidelines. This arrangement prevented JLS from ensuring that it has obtained the best possible prices on a competitive basis.

“Without formal contracts, which would establish performance criteria, we could not determine how JLS satisfied itself that the suppliers met expectations. The absence of formal contracts could have denied JLS of surety of services and may leave JLS without recourse in the event of losses related to unsatisfactory performance,” Monroe Ellis said.

The auditor general also noted deficiencies in the JLS board's governance processes, apparent from its failure to hold regular meetings “during which to review the performance and set [its] strategic direction”.

“After convening a meeting in November 2017, the board did not meet again until July 2018. Another meeting of the board was held in March 2019, indicating a gap of eight months between meetings. We reviewed the minutes of the seven meetings held by the board within a two-year period, June 2, 2016 to July 10, 2018, and noted that the board paid little attention to JLS's long-term strategic priorities,” the auditor general outlined.

“On the other hand, MoEYI (Ministry of Education, Youth and Information) did not seek to ensure JLS compliance, which meant that, as parent ministry, its oversight function would have been impaired,” the report said further.

“This lack of strategic direction and oversight represents a breakdown in established monitoring arrangements for public bodies under the Corporate Governance Framework,” the auditor general noted.

The audit, which was conducted to determine the extent to which JLS was measuring and responding to the impact of technological changes while contributing to Jamaica's Vision 2030, “revealed weaknesses in JLS governance systems, resulting from the board of directors failing in its corporate governance responsibilities, while the parent ministry appeared to offer little or no strategic support”, the report said.

According to Monroe Ellis, “Although JLS spent significant sums to introduce and maintain information and communications technology infrastructure in libraries, the number of people using public libraries has fallen, triggered by a shift in how people access and use information through technology.” She said “there was no evidence of effort to rationalise and reallocate resources to minimise waste and create greater cost-effectiveness”.

She added that while the Government “recently provided $128 million in the 2019-20 supplementary estimates to upgrade public libraries and purchase books, JLS runs the risk of not spending this allocation wisely”.

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