Wed | Sep 20, 2017

Forget Riverton. NSWMA is the real dump

Published:Sunday | April 12, 2015 | 4:00 AMKent Gammon

The final audit report of the National Solid Waste Management Authority 2013-2014 mirrors the governance of corruption.

The irregular collection of garbage in the Corporate Area, in particular, is not only nasty and disgusting, but more significantly, poses a health risk to all citizens. The usual refrain from the National Solid Waste Management Authority (NSWMA) is that it does not get enough resources from central government.

That would probably find favour with some persons who want to give the People's National Party (PNP) administration a sympathetic nod. After all, the economy of Jamaica has not only got worse since 2011, it has declined by two to three per cent since that time, but social services have fallen off significantly.

The president of the Medical Association of Jamaica has described the health sector as being in crisis. Many Jamaicans are still grappling with the lingering effects of chikungunya, which has cost the country billions in lost productivity.

To tax and spend, a time-worn PNP philosophy, will not add to the country's stock of wealth, leaving our children with all the more unpayable debt.

The minister of local government and community development, Noel Arscott, under whose jurisdiction the NSWMA falls, in a recent press interview at Jamaica House, said the preliminary audit report of the NSWMA might be redundant. This was a preliminary audit report from September 2014 that had identified serious irregularities of some unaccounted $500 million.

Within 24 hours of that press interview, the final audit report of the NSWMA was disseminated and the serious irregularities had all not disappeared. And how about the timing of the press conference right in the holiest week of the year when maybe the Jamaican people will find some contrition in their hearts and forgive the minister and his disingenuousness while they were distracted with the US president's visit last week?

Back in 2011, in another preliminary audit of the Jamaica Development Infrastructure Programme (JDIP), improper accounting methodology was found by the same auditor general and the minister in charge of that programme was dismissed. Who can forget Dr Omar Davies waving the preliminary audit report of JDIP pontificating how "corrupt" the JLP administration was?

PALL OF INCOMPETENCE

The preliminary audit report of JDIP in 2011 did cast a pall of incompetence over the JLP administration and hurt the party in the general election of December 2011. When the final audit report of JDIP had been disseminated, no irregularities were uncovered.

Fast-forward to 2015 and the fire at Riverton City that burned for weeks, emitting noxious fumes all over the Corporate Area, while the minister of local government stayed in Japan at a conference which, clearly in his mind, was more important than the jeopardising of the health of thousands of Jamaicans.

The Financial Administration and Audit Act (FAA) empowers the minister to make regulations in relation to the financial management of public funds. The FAA also empowers the minister to designate in writing public officers who shall be accounting officers of the departments specified.

With some $500 million missing at the NSWMA in the period 2013-2014, this clearly demonstrates the absolute mayhem that operated at the Authority.

Surprisingly, former executive director of the NSWMA Jennifer Edwards' contract to continue acting as the executive director of the NSWMA was not renewed at the end of March 2015. It was reported that the board of the NSWMA had lost confidence in her abilities in handling the latest Riverton City dump mass fire.

The chairman of the board, Steve Ashley, whose chairmanship of the NSWMA was recently terminated, said he didn't know of the irregularities in the preliminary report of the auditor general. It is almost impossible for the chairman of a state entity to not know of such serious irregularities in the handling of public funds.

Steve Ashley went on to say that he had little, if any, comment on the matter. The missing sum of $500 million of public funds in one year is not a no-comment issue. As chairman of a state board, he was highly incompetent in chairing such gross irregularities. Is there no accountability in this administration?

It was also reprehensible that persons trained in solid waste management were terminated from their jobs when there was a change of administration in 2011. The net result of those reckless personnel changes is gross incompetence.

The people of Jamaica cannot continue to hold a double standard of governance for the Jamaica Labour Party and the PNP. The effects of that could be more fires, more taxes and more injustice.

- Kent Gammon is deputy opposition spokesman on justice and the attorney general. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.