Call in the police!
Auditor general urges criminal investigation of JCTE operationsWednesday, October 13, 2021
BY ALPHEA SUMNER
In a damning report tabled in Parliament yesterday, Auditor General Pamela Monroe-Ellis called on Education Minister Fayval Williams to refer the findings of a probe into the operations of the Joint Committee for Tertiary Education (JCTE) to the police for investigation.
Monroe-Ellis also urged the Ministry of Finance to consider surcharge action against two senior officers of the education ministry for the disbursement of $124 million that cannot be accounted for.
“Whereas the Financial Administration and Audit (FAA) Act does not permit me to make reports directly to the JCF (Jamaica Constabulary Force) or any anti-corruption agency for an investigation to be undertaken further to my report, I strongly urge the minister of education to formally refer this report to the JCF or a designated anti-corruption agency for investigation. Further, I have made a recommendation to the Ministry of Finance to institute surcharge action against two senior officers of the MoEYI (Ministry of Education, Youth and Information) on the basis that both officers failed in their fiduciary duty to implement measures to ensure that Government funds were appropriated in keeping with the requisite law and established guidelines and that arrangements were put in place to safeguard government resources. Insofar as $124 million cannot be accounted for, this is deemed a loss of Government funds,” the auditor general outlined in the report.
She said her team found no evidence of a governance and monitoring framework for the JCTE, and that the acting permanent secretary in the ministry had facilitated a taxpayer registration number (TRN) for the transfer of Government funds to an advisory committee without the finance ministry's approval.
The report stated that the JCTE's leadership refused to provide requested documentation to the Auditor General's Department and the education ministry could not account for the JCTE's use of government funds.
Monroe-Ellis said she commissioned a special audit of the JCTE in 2019 to determine if operations were aligned with its mandate and if funds transferred to the JCTE by the ministry were in keeping with the Government's guidelines and the FAA Act.
She said this was in the context where an audit of Caribbean Maritime University (CMU) had identified a possible conflict of interest between the JCTE and the permanent secretary in the ministry. The audit commenced in December 2019, following the conclusion of the CMU audit.
But Monroe-Ellis said her team was met with resistance from the JCTE chairman.
“We experienced a limitation of scope during this audit owing to the JCTE chairman's refusal to provide the accounting records. The chairman asserted that he privatised a government entity and on that basis the auditor general has no authority to review such records,” the auditor general reported.
According to the auditor general, the acting permanent secretary “suggested that she was helpless in the matter”, as she was unable to convince the chairman to give up the records, that she had no knowledge of the private company, and that the ministry would cease doing business with the JCTE.
“It is my opinion that the arguments of the chairman, the permanent secretary and the acting permanent secretary are unacceptable. The chairman does not have the authority to privatise a government entity. The chairman's private entity is separate and apart from the JCTE, a special advisory committee established by the minister of education,” Monroe Ellis stated.
According to the auditor general, the acting permanent secretary permitted the transfer of $11 million to the JCTE after a failed attempt to obtain the accounting records from the chairman, and “despite knowing that the chairman laid claims that he is the owner of the company and refused to comply with the auditor general's request for information”.
Monroe-Ellis indicated that the permanent secretary had provided her team with insufficient supporting documents for the disbursement, only days before the report was to be laid in Parliament.
She said her office submitted a draft report of the JCTE to the Ministry of Education on June 22, 2021 and the ministry responded to the draft on June 29.
“The acting permanent secretary provided no additional supporting documentation as part of that response. However, the acting permanent secretary submitted additional supporting documents on October 6, 2021, having been provided with a copy of the report that was scheduled to be sent to Parliament. The documents submitted included payment vouchers prepared by the ministry supported by invoices prepared by JCTE. I advised the acting PS (permanent secretary) that the information is insufficient as the documents provided do not represent suppliers' invoices, which are required to determine how the funds were utilised,” the auditor general outlined.
The JCTE was established in 1991 as a special advisory committee. The Ministry of Education has portfolio responsibility, with the University Council being host of the JCTE's secretariat.