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Op-Ed: Shameful disregard for accountability

Published:Wednesday | July 29, 2015 | 7:00 AMA.C. Countz

Ministry of Labour and Social Security top officials, Minister Derrick Kellier and Permanent Secretary Collette Roberts-Risden, seem to think they are above providing information about their ministry to the general public.

Moreover, it would seem that they feel they do not have to obey the law - the Access to Information Act (ATI).

Way back in April 2015 this column asked them, under the provisions of the ATI, to provide details of residency and citizenship applications granted to Chinese citizens in each of the calendar years from 2012 to 2014.

The labour ministry, after holding on to the request for months, referred the query to the Ministry of National Security, which, in turn, passed on the request to the Passport, Immigration and Citizenship Agency (PICA).

There has been no answer from PICA to date, even though the ATI required them to respond by July 9 - one month after they received the query.

Shame on them all.

NIF remedy

Where are the accounts for the National Insurance Fund (NIF) and what is being done to avoid its haemorrhage?

Minister Kellier was written to on June 2 - well over a month ago - and asked to provide copies of the NIF accounts and the last actuarial review of the National Insurance Scheme. But, no answer. Again, Mr Kellier's ministry is in breach of the Access to Information Act for not replying within 30 days.

Why is this slackness allowed, especially at a time when the NIS is paying out benefits ($14.7 billion in 2013-14) far in excess of contributions ($12 billion in 2013-14)?

Audrey Deer-Williams, senior director of investments at the NIF, has kindly advised that steps are being taken in consultation with their actuaries to rectify the bleeding. It is not clear to this column what these steps are.

The parlous financial condition of the NF requires remedy. It would appear the labour ministry is ill-equipped to manage this remedy.

There has to be concern that future beneficiaries may not be able to get their benefits when due.

The website of the Ministry of Labour, unbelievably, does not have the latest NIF accounts and NIS actuarial report. Minister Kellier and Permanent Secretary Roberts-Risden need to improve their accountability skills.

One more thing: The NIF owns 51 per cent of the Portmore Commercial Development Company Limited - What does this company do? Has it been a profitable investment for the NIS?

How many phones are being tapped?

The permanent secretary in the Ministry of National Security, Major General S.E. Saunders, promised in a letter of March 9 to provide information about the number of permissions given to tap phones in each of the years from 2011 to 2104.

He promised a reply by April 9.

This information is still outstanding despite four months having expired. Come on, Major General, let's hear from you.

Damion Cox, director of the Access to Information Unit, has been equally silent.

This information is a matter of public interest.

Bureau of Standards ahead of itself

We are grateful to executive director of the Bureau of Standards Jamaica, Yvonne Hall, for sending us that organisation's financial statements. However, Mrs Hall is ahead of her time, having indicated that she had sent us the accounts for March 2015 when, in fact, she sent the accounts for March 2014.

In that financial year, the Bureau of Standards made a profit of $45 million but this was reduced to a loss of $6 million after a reassessment of the deficit in its defined pension benefit fund.

How on earth a government agency can continue to operate a defined benefit plan is beyond this column. The directors of the board should immediately convert the pension plan to direct contribution.

The Bureau of Standards has been in the practice of paying 10 per cent as the employer contribution. Professor Winston Davidson, chairman of the Standards Council, might have his board implement this change soon or give his reasons for his continued generosity.

The Bureau of Standards in 2014 earned $650 million in compliance fees and spent $584 million in administrative and operating expenses. There was an enormous increase in the estimated cost of post-employment medical and life insurance obligations, which have risen to $167 million.

The net worth of the Bureau of Standards was $1.4 billion at the end of 2014.

This column reviews the audited and in-house accounts and reports of companies and entities owned or influenced by Government. Add your comments at Gleaner Online or email: editor@gleanerjm.com