Financial control still lacking at some municipal corporations


Financial control still lacking at some municipal corporations

Senior staff reporter

Thursday, January 21, 2021

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After three hours in front of Parliament's Public Administration and Appropriations Committee (PAAC) yesterday, officials of the Ministry of Local Government provided little clarity on the policies and monitoring systems in place to prevent irregularities and fraud, at the island's municipal corporations.

Members of the PAAC learnt that the Hanover Municipal Corporation, which law enforcement and other authorities raided last October, following allegations of impropriety and irregularity, does not have a Local Public Accounts Committee (LPAC) in place, despite this being one of the mandatory measures introduced out of the local government reform process as one of the responses to identify and institute mechanisms that will help to achieve the goals of accountability, openness and transparency within municipal corporations.

The Manchester Municipal Corporation, which, too, has been caught up in fraud investigations ending in convictions, also does not have an LPAC.

In fact, permanent secretary in the Ministry of Local Government Marsha Martin-Henry told the PAAC that only seven of 14 municipal corporations have established LPACs so far.

The permanent secretary argued that, while all municipal corporations are mandated to have these accountability structures, there have been teething pains.

Chief executive officer of the Hanover Municipal Corporation David Gardner told the PAAC that there were issues with setting up the LPAC, as the breakdown in the parish development committee structure has stalled the discussions around getting this off the ground.

“We have to rely on the effectiveness of the systems that are in place... there are some gaps that can be addressed in the short term; there are others that will have to be addressed over a period of time given the nature of what they are,” said Gardener.

“The truth is that you will never be able to reasonably assume what is in the mind of someone, with the best of intentions. The truth is that I really would not have come to preconceived conclusions, what I would do is try to strengthen whatever weaknesses may exist,” added Gardener.

The Hanover Municipal Corporation is currently the subject of an Integrity Commission-led probe in relation to allegations of impropriety, irregularity, conflict of interest, favouritism and/or nepotism in the award of a contract.

Member of Parliament for St James Central Heroy Clarke, who pressed Gardener for answers, suggested that things may not have settled down at the local authority even now.

According to Clarke, he witnessed an individual travelling in a vehicle bearing the municipal corporation insignia who was attempting to cash municipal corporation cheques at a cambio, but was turned away upon his intervention.

Gardener told the committee that he was not aware of this activity nor was there a policy that would allow an officer to do this.

“I can clearly tell you, you need to make sure that, internally, checks and balances are in place,” cautioned Clarke.

Martin-Henry agreed with concerns expressed by the PAAC members and gave repeated assurances that the leadership of the ministry was addressing the areas of concern.

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