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Coffee Board setting an example for accountability

Published:Wednesday | August 6, 2014 | 8:00 AM
Chairman of the Coffee Industry Board, Delano Franklyn.-File

A.C. Countz, Guest Columnist

Last week I criticised the Coffee Industry Board (CIB) as it was my belief that the last accounts they would provided were for 2012.

In fact, Acting General Manger Steve Robinson, had taken the unusual and positive step of sending us the CIB in-house accounts as of June 30, 2014 - even though audited accounts for June 2013 were not sent.

Apologies to both Chairman Delano Franklyn and Steve Robinson for the error of last week.

I thank them for their in-house accounts - the first such accounts sent to us - which I will review in due course. I await a copy of their 2013 accounts.

These were the first in-house accounts sent and I commend the CIB.

Broadcasting Commission passes the buck

Cordel Green, executive director of the Broadcasting Commission, has efficiently responded to criticisms of July 30 and said that the Commission "has been fully compliant in the preparation and submission of annual reports and audited financial statements" and gives dates when the July 2013 and July 2014 accounts were submitted to the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM). Well done Broadcasting Commission!

The Commission also took out an interesting advertisement in The Sunday Gleaner.

But the latest accounts available to the public are for March 2012.

What Cordel Green has done is pass on the blame to the Office of the Prime Minister for not releasing, for example, the Commission's 2013 accounts in over a year. Why are the Permanent Secretary in the OPM, Onika Miller, and the Prime Minister so slow in releasing the Broadcasting Commission's accounts after the Commission has been so exemplary in preparing its financial statements?

Cordel Green and Chairman Hopeton Dunn know fully well that there is no law that prevents them as directors of the Broadcasting Commission from releasing their accounts, including in-house, directly to the public even before those accounts are tabled in Parliament. There is no item in their accounts that would threaten national security or reveal secret commercial ideas.

Cordel Green and Chairman Hopeton Dunn should better spend their considerable talents getting the Commission's accounts into the public domain rather than chastising this column for urging them to remember that their first duty is public accountability.

This column impatiently awaits the Commission's 2013 and 2014 accounts and a statement from the OPM about their tardiness.

Financial secretary non-responsive after three months

The Financial Secretary, Devon Rowe, has still not replied to a letter dated April 25 - three months ago - requesting clarification on a number of accounting issues that, in part, relate to Mr Green's frustrations.

What can be done to get such a senior civil servant to reply to correspondence? The public deserves better treatment.

In view of the Financial Secretary's inactivity, I will now urge his minister, Peter Phillips, to answer the questions raised and will write to the Minister directly.

PCJ chairman answers some questions

Chris Cargill, chairman of the Petroleum Corporation of Jamaica (PCJ), in his letter, published July 29, has kindly and rationally responded to many criticisms of his board.

He states that his board was only appointed in February 2012, and in the ensuing period - two and a half years - has not been able to bring PCJ accounts current, due to inherited backlog.

One must commend the current PCJ board on its efforts and ask for a date to be given now for the public release of the March 2014 accounts.

These accounts need to show inter alia that the PCJ "receivables" from the Office of Utilities Regulation, the Rural Electrification Programme, and its parent ministry have been cleared; to say nothing about the relationship between PCJ and the Cuban light bulb issue - an issue absent from Mr Cargill's useful defence.

The PCJ might let the public know why the shares for the Petroleum Company of Jamaica Limited, aka Petcom, are registered in the names of Garnet Woodham and the Jamaica Industrial Development Corporat? Is this last named still in existence? Will this share registration facilitate divestment?

NWA fails accountability standard

E.G. Hunter, the relatively new CEO of the National Works Agency (NWA), has courteously sent some of the requested information about the NWA, including its March 2011, most recently audited and available accounts.

He further shows that it takes about four years between the financial yearend and the accounts being tabled in Parliament! He further indicates that "other reports are being processed to facilitate tabling in Parliament".

One must assume that the accounts from 2012 - two years ago - onwards are still not finished.

The directors of the NWA - E.G. Hunter, Earl Patterson, Varden Downer, O'Reilly Henry, Roger Smith Patrick Rose, Stephen Shaw, Jennifer Henry, Sharon Morgan-Grindley, Pauline Dunstan, Orlene Nembhard-Rowe and Maxine Donaldson Creary - need to allocate more time to demanding that their company become more transparent and accountable. If they are unable to do this, should they resign or give up their fees?

Mr Hunter continues to state that the NWA in-house accounts cannot be released because the audit has not been completed! It is the view of this column that in-house accounts that do not contain national security or commercial secrets, that need no protection, are public documents.

Presumably the NWA is encouraging a legal request under the Access to Information Act prior to changing its policy about release. Why does it have different disclosure rules from the Coffee Industry Board?

It is hardly worthwhile reviewing financial accounts that are so old. Nevertheless here are some highlights from 2011:

1. NWA was created an executive agency in 2001 under the Ministry Transport and Works. It took over the former Public Works Department.

2. NWA lost about $670m, before taking credit for a government grant of $463m and selling project "designs" for $258m to China Harbour. It is obliged to give 50 per cent of its net surplus to the Consolidated Fund.

3. $103m funded from the above sale of "designs" was used to refurbish NWA's corporate offices at 140 Maxfield Avenue.

4. The accounts are audited by the Auditor General and appear a little light. No annual report is presented.

5. NWA had employed 55 persons with one person earning more than $2m. Total staff costs were $862m.

6. Provision for bad debts was $202m - relevant debtor not identified.

Let's see what the next accounts contain. When will they be available? We await the in-house accounts if no audited accounts available.

This column reviews the audited and in-house accounts and reports of companies and entities owned or influenced by Government.

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