Integrity Commission uncovers discriminatory processes in chicken back importsWednesday, December 09, 2020
KINGSTON, Jamaica— The Integrity Commission says it has uncovered discriminatory processes at the agriculture ministry being used to issue permits to importers of chicken back and other poultry products, and that the practice should be discontinued immediately.
The commission said it is of the view that “the discretionary power accorded to the minister to provide instructions for the issuance of import permits, in the absence of adequate checks and balances, is a mechanism which has the potential to facilitate corruption”, in special report on allegations of unfairness and lack of transparency in the importation of chicken back and other poultry. The report was tabled in the House of Representatives yesterday.
The probe was initiated in March 2015 by the Office of the Contractor General (OCG) acting on behalf of the contractor general, based on an anonymous written complaint. The OCG has since been subsumed into the Integrity Commission.
It said there is documentary and witness evidence that permits were being issued to applicants on the basis of prior importation history.
The commission said that although the Ministry of Agriculture was responsible for the processing of applications and the issuance of permits for the importation of chicken backs and necks into Jamaica for the period 2005-2015, then director of the agricultural services unit, Sandor Pike, had advised the then OCG that “a formal policy does not exist” for the importation of poultry products into Jamaica.
Pike is also reported to have said the main requirement which determined the approval of permits to applicants for the importation of chicken back and other poultry products is the history of applicants, and specifically, the number of years that the applicant has been importing the product.
“The DI (Director of investigations) has seen no evidence to suggest that the process utilised by the Ministry of Agriculture was fair, impartial, on merit, or on the basis of a competitive process. In point of fact, the preferential treatment granted in the award of permits to applicants on the basis of prior importation history compromises the integrity of the award process and hinders competition,” the report stated.
The commission said that of 116 importers of chicken backs and necks, during the period 2006-2013, seven imported 46 per cent of the total full container loads of the chicken products.
It was found that the ministry undertook no formal due diligence in order to determine the legitimacy and authenticity of the information submitted by applicants.
The commission said it could therefore not determine the process that was used for the issuance of permits.
There are far reaching implications as only five per cent of the containers were examined by the Jamaica Customs Agency, the commission noted.
Furthermore, by the ministry's own account, according to the commission, the then OCG was told that there were instances in which permit holders for the importation of chicken backs and necks were importing chicken leg quarters instead of chicken backs.
In details of the importation of poultry across administrations the commission said from 2006 to 2007, then minister Roger Clarke gave instructions for the importation of 791 full container loads of chicken backs, 143 container loads of chicken necks, and two full container loads of chicken leg quarters.
During the period 2007 to 2011, then agriculture minister Dr Christopher Tufton gave instructions for the importation of 1,839 full container loads of chicken back and 605 full container loads of chicken neck.
From July to December 2011, the then minister, Robert Montague, gave instructions for the importation of 803 full container loads of chicken backs and 220 full container loads of chicken necks, and for the period October to November 2013, Pike in his capacity as then head of the agricultural services signed letters of request for the importation of 272 full container loads of chicken backs and 42 containers of chicken necks, the commission said.
However, the commission said it in no way questions the discretion afforded to ministers, but that to guard against the perception of bias and arbitrary decision making, the issuance of permits for the importation of chicken products should be made in accordance with an established, transparent process.
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