Editorial | Make SADCO audit public
Some in the Government will consider it fortuitous that the Urban Development Corporation (UDC) received what it branded as an independent audit of its subsidiary, the
St Ann Development Company (SADCo), in the midst of the Christmas season.
At this time of year, the perception goes, not too many people pay attention to this kind of weighty issue, which can be politically damaging if they contain bad news, which this report appears to do. Further, Parliament is on recess, which delays having to answer awkward questions from pesky opposition members.
Except, in this case, those questions could not be specific, for no one knows the details of the auditors' findings, but perhaps for the board of the UDC; Prime Minister Andrew Holness, to whom they are accountable; the auditor general; and the police squad that investigates corruption. Taxpayers, whose interests it is that, ultimately, are at stake, haven't as yet been offered any facts. They have a right to know.
St Ann Development Company operates what is perhaps Jamaica's premier tourist attraction and recreational spot, Dunn's River Falls and Park. The company apparently came under scrutiny earlier this year when officials apparently noticed discrepancies in bookings, but not the company's turnover. The difference was many millions of dollars.
It was suggested at the time that the police had been alerted and that government auditors had been invited to probe the agency. However, last week, the UDC disclosed that it received the report of the "independent audit", which it had turned over to Auditor General Pamela Monroe Ellis and the police Counter-Terrorism and Organised Crime Branch.
"The report highlighted a series of long-standing governance and operational issues pertaining to systematic financial irregularities with ticketing revenue," said the UDC's chairman, Ransford Braham. The auditors also made recommendations for the operations and management of the business, which, according to Mr Braham, the UDC is implementing with the help of outsiders.
These initiatives are welcomed. However, we believe the process demands greater transparency. The open airing of systemic or deliberate weaknesses and/or failures in management, as has recently been the case with developments at the Petrojam oil refinery, this newspaper believes, helps in building a culture of accountability, thus enhancing governance and creating an environment in which corruption doesn't readily thrive.
We understand that these processes can be embarrassing, and, sometimes, politically costly for governments, as opposition parties leverage the bad news. These concerns, in our view, are vastly outweighed by the positive value of transparency.
That is why Prime Minister Holness, who has ministerial responsibility for the UDC, should table, at Parliament's next sitting, the audit findings into SADCo. At the very least, the public will know who conducted the audit, the rigour with which it was done, and the value that can be placed on its findings. Further, the report should be forwarded by the House to its Public Administrations and Appropriations Committee to, at the very least, review its recommendations on governance, as well as the likely efficacy of the management systems being implemented by the UDC.
In the event that there are concerns, which ought not to be the case, that information in the report could compromise criminal investigations, these elements can be appropriately redacted and members of the committee briefed privately on them. This, however, is not a course that this newspaper would propose, except in very rare and extreme circumstances.