Officer who uncovered breaches at controversial Charlemont Drive development interdicted
THE National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA) inspector who was the first to highlight breaches at the housing development owned by National Water Commission President Mark Barnett and his wife Annette Francis-Barnett, which triggered an investigation by the Integrity Commission, was last Wednesday served a notice of interdiction and ushered from the entity’s Caledonia Avenue address in the Corporate Area.
The commission, in its report on the investigation tabled in Parliament last October, said the Barnetts breached building, planning and environmental permits, and sought the ruling of Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Paula Llewellyn on the allegations of irregularities in the approval and post-permit monitoring processes for the residential development at 11 Charlemont Drive, Kingston 6.
The DPP, however, in her ruling said that although the allegations support the laying of criminal charges against the Barnetts for breaching the environmental permit, which is an offence under the Natural Resources Conservation Authority (NRCA) Act, there can be no prosecution as criminal action is statute-barred, given that the initiation of prosecution is time-sensitive and was not initiated within 12 months of the breach being identified. Llewellyn, however, agreed with the Integrity Commission that Barnett was in breach of the NRCA Act and the Building Act.
Barnett has been on administrative leave since October, after the commission released its report.
Last Wednesday eyebrows were raised at NEPA’s offices as the officer, who the Jamaica Observer understands is employed to the entity for about five years, was called into a meeting with senior management and informed of the interdiction. He was then seen being marched to his work station and instructed regarding what to remove, with all work-related devices seized. The officer, under strong guard, was allowed to clear his desk, ordered to exit the premises, and instructed not to return unless given an official invitation, the Sunday Observer was informed.
The 2016 public bodies disciplinary policy states that, depending on the allegation of misconduct reported, it may be necessary to remove an employee from the immediate work area in order to conduct the investigation. This removal may be in the form of a temporary transfer, or interdiction/suspension with pay, or part thereof. It, however, says suspension/interdiction should not be done without considering and discussing alternatives, and should be for the shortest possible time. It further says removing an employee from office should not be used unless it is extremely necessary, and should not be seen as a penalty but as a measure to ensure that the public interest is served and the investigations are carried out in a manner with the least likelihood of interference. It also says an employee who has been removed from duty for investigation purposes shall be deemed to be properly served if the notification:
* is sent in a prepaid, registered letter properly addressed and posted to the address on record;
* is sent by a bearer/courier and there is a signature of receipt.
It also says, based on the nature and circumstances of the charge, employees may be removed from duty with pay or part thereof. The amount is determined by the circumstances of the allegations/charge — that is, the more serious the charge, the less is paid. The general principle is that an employee should not be paid less than half salary.
The officer — who the Sunday Observer was told had responsibility for monitoring the development to ensure compliance on the part of the developers with the permit — had, during a site visit, found discrepancies which were not in agreement with what was approved initially.
The officer, in accordance with his duties, compiled a report which he submitted to a supervisor with recommendations that a warning letter should be issued to Barnett to come into compliance within seven days.
Subsequently, another officer went on site and made similar observations and recommendations. The reports of both individuals were factored in the investigations of the Integrity Commission, and both were interviewed. However, only the officer who compiled the first report has been placed on interdiction, the Sunday Observer has learnt.
The commission had said NEPA’s Legal and Enforcement Division should conduct a review of its enforcement policies and procedures with a view to ensuring that, where breaches are detected, the necessary enforcement actions are taken.
According to the DPP, given that the breach was first identified by NEPA on December 17, 2020, prosecution should have been initiated by December 17, 2021.
She further noted that there were discrepancies in the findings reported by NEPA and Kingston and St Andrew Municipal Corporation (KSAMC) into breaches uncovered at the development.
The DPP said the officer from NEPA observed and noted a breach on December 17, 2020, however, seven days prior, an officer from the KSAMC visited the location and determined that the building structure was compliant with plans approved by the local authority.
On January 12 KSAMC said it is conducting an internal investigation to include the variation between the reports regarding the findings by NEPA’s officers and the KSAMC’s. That probe, the corporation said, will involve reports, inspections, and approvals surrounding construction work, inspections and approvals for the project.
“Once these investigations are completed the KSAMC will take all necessary and appropriate actions to ensure that the building and planning laws are enforced and adhered to,” mayor of Kingston Delroy Williams said.
Days later Williams indicated that the KSAMC will no longer allow single officers to conduct inspections of any building development.
“We are now using multiple officers, and when you have multiple officers doing inspections for something to go through [which does not meet the requirements], it would have involved collusion,” he stated.
Williams said that this was among decisions taken by the KSAMC Building Committee, which has so far resulted in the interdiction of two senior members of staff. He added that the corporation is continuing investigations that could lead to the interdiction of two more officers.