NWC board sends Barnett on administrative leave
NWC President and CEO Mark Barnett and his attorney-at-law wife, Annette Francis-Barnett in an undated file photo. They are both developers of a complex which the Integrity Commission said has been in breach.

A day after the Jamaica Observer reported that National Water Commission (NWC) President Mark Barnett was facing an uncertain future, following a damning Integrity Commission (IC) report tabled in Parliament on Tuesday, the board of the State agency sent him on administrative leave as it continues to examine the report.

The board, the Observer was told, issued the instruction after meeting on Friday, saying that it should be implemented with immediate effect.

On Thursday the Observer had reported that Barnett, who was appointed NWC president on August 1, 2015 after serving the company in a number of senior engineering roles, is under pressure as sources indicated that it was likely he would have to resign or faced being fired.

"He has done really well in whipping the NWC into a fighting and functioning State agency despite calls from some employees for him to go in recent times, but this IC report cannot be ignored," said one Observer source.

"The fact that there has been no strong denial from him so far is telling, and it seems that the prime minister, who is the head of the ministry under which the NWC falls, will have no option but to cut him loose.

"The NWC is a key agency in the building approval process and for the IC to indicate that its president breached the rules, Mark will have to show that the investigation is flawed or pay the price," added the source.

The IC report had noted that the NWC is a critical component of the development approval process in Jamaica, "therefore, the head of that entity, and its officers, should not be seen or found to be in contravention of the laws governing the development process".

The report concerns allegations of irregularities in the approval and post-permit monitoring processes in relation to the construction of a residential development located at 11 Charlemont Drive, Kingston 6.

The IC's Director of Investigations (DI) Kevon Stephenson, in his findings, concluded that building, planning, and environmental permits required for the construction of a development, consisting of 12 one-bedroom units at the upper St Andrew premises, were issued by the Kingston and St Andrew Municipal Corporation (KSAMC) and the National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA) to Barnett and his wife, attorney-at-law Annette Francis Barnett.

Stephenson concluded that Barnett and his wife breached the building, planning and environmental permits which were issued by the KSAMC and NEPA for the development. He said his conclusion was premised on the fact that the referenced development consists of six two-bedroom units and six three-bedroom units instead of 12 one-bedroom units.

"The DI concludes that there was a clear intention on the part of Mr Mark Barnett and Mrs Annette Francis Barnett to contravene the terms of the building and planning permit which was issued by KSAMC," said the report as it was pointed out that there was another clause which indicated that the Barnetts would retain ownership of two two-bedroom units and two three-bedroom units.

"Clearly, it would be a practical impossibility for the developer to have complied with both of the referenced clause," said Stephenson.

In his recommendation Stephenson called on the KSAMC to take action against the Barnetts and the developer Phillip Smith for breaching the building permit which was granted for the development.

"After consultations with the director of corruption, the DPP is hereby alerted to the noted breaches of the applicable legislation for appropriate action, in relation to the prosecution of any viable offence as the DPP may determine," said Stephenson.

He also recommended that the NWC apply such sanction as it deems appropriate and necessary to restore public confidence in its leadership and to demonstrate that the conduct by Barnett "cannot and will not be tolerated in public office".

Stephenson said his recommendation is premised on the fact that Barnett "is the holder of a public office within a large and longstanding public body and therefore, he is required, at a minimum, to uphold the laws of Jamaica, to discharge his fiduciary duties without reservations or equivocation and to always comport himself in a way which is consistent with the dignity of that office".

The report also recommended that "necessary and appropriate" action be taken against Annette Barnett by the General Legal Council for breaches of the Canons of Professional Ethics Rule.

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