PNP pushes for probe into operations of USF

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

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THE Opposition People's National Party (PNP) is insisting that the Government launches a full investigation into the operations of the Universal s ervice Fund (USF).

The call comes in the wake of the resignation of Suzette Buchanan as head of the agency, which has been among the state entities under the energy and technology and science portfolios, which have been embroiled in a recent slew of controversies.

Buchanan reportedly hired her daughter to the agency, a move which the PNP has categorised as “blatant nepotism”, accusing the former CEO of putting her daughter on the payroll “without due regard for the standard procedure for employment in the government service”. The PNP alleged that Buchanan's daughter did not meet the requisite academic qualifications for the position she held.

Yesterday, Opposition spokesman on science and technology, Julian Robinson said the CEO's resignation did not bring closure to the controversies at the agency since the installation of Buchanan, and that there should be a full investigation of the entity. Buchanan is the former Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) candidate for St Catherine East Central.

Robinson said the resignation of the USF head has accelerated the necessity for the Auditor General and the Integrity Commission to conduct a full-scale investigation of the operations of the agency.

He said the resignation has opened the door to many questions regarding the role of key officials in the conduct of the agency's business and that these can only be answered satisfactorily by an audit and detailed investigation.

Robinson said the chairman of the USF Board, Robert Lawrence, had not yet answered questions posed to him in a July media release by the PNP seeking to ascertain how many other persons had been hired at the agency over the past two years, and in what capacity without the positions being advertised, as required by the rules of the Public Service Commission. The Opposition also wants to know whether permission was granted by, either the parent ministry or the commission, to fill such positions.

Robinson pointed out that a July 16 press release from the USF “appears to suggest that there were other breaches, but according to him, they were excusable under the agency's policy for temporary employment”.

However, Robinson said, there is no such accommodation for the blatant hiring of relatives in the way they were effected at the USF, which operates under the Government's human resources principles.

The PNP also said that accountability or the lack thereof and the “deterioration in the administrative environment” at the agency cannot lie solely with the CEO. “The board of directors, led by Mr (Robert) Lawrence, is equally responsible, especially because the board chairman played an active role in the day-to-day operations of the organisation,” the Opposition insisted yesterday.

Robinson alleged that the major decisions taken by the organisation were done with the knowledge and authority of the board and the chairman.

The Opposition spokesman has also questioned the rationale behind why no representatives from the island's telecommunications providers were on the board of the USF, as was customary since the inception of the fund.

The USF was set up in 2005 as the Universal Access Company Limited to oversee the collection of a universal service levy on all inbound telephone calls. The levy is imposed on international calls terminating on local networks and the funds are used to assist the USF to carry out its mandate to provide Jamaicans with access to information and communication tools.

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