Thu | Aug 17, 2017

OCG triggered - Gun authority engulfed in scandal on agency's radar for months; board resigns

Published:Thursday | August 3, 2017 | 8:00 AMJovan Johnson
The Firearm Licensing Authority (FLA) on Old Hope Road, St Andrew
Peter Phillips
Contractor General Dirk Harrison
Trevor Munroe
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At least four months ago, the Office of the Contractor General (OCG) started probing the Firearm Licensing Authority (FLA), whose five board members resigned yesterday, 48 hours after its chairman, Dennis Wright, said that they were going nowhere over the unfolding gun-licence scandal.

The confirmation yesterday from Dirk Harrison, contractor general, now puts to four, the number of probes initiated into the operations of the entity since the high-profile Patrick Powell case last October highlighted several blunders.

National Security Minister Robert Montague said in November that the agency was "either corrupt or broken" when he ordered a probe of the agency's systems. There has been no update on that, and the review board last week was mandated to do a similar one.

Late last month, it was revealed that the Major Organised Crime and Anti-Corruption Agency (MOCA) was probing over 100 gun licences that may have been issued to people of questionable character. There are claims, too, of people being granted licences before appeals have been heard.

"Four or five months ago, we did requisition the FLA to ask them questions in terms of processes. I won't at this time say the process in relation to the particular contract," Harrison told The Gleaner about the first phase of the office's investigation.

Section Two of the OCG Act gives the contractor general the power to probe any government office that issues licences or permits.

"As it relates to anything that appears to be a criminal intent, we would leave that to MOCA, and anything that is in the police jurisdiction, we don't normally trample in that regard, but we certainly are looking into the entire matter," Harrison added.

 

DECLINED TO SPEAK

 

MOCA has declined to speak to any aspect of its probe, citing policy.

"It is not the policy of MOCA to discuss ongoing investigations in the media. If and when MOCA has an update, the public will be informed," said the agency's communication unit.

Former FLA chairman Dennis Wright; deputy chairman Dennis Meadows, who initially recused himself; Juno Jarrett; former judge Marva McIntosh; and retired Assistant Commissioner of Police Granville Gause resigned "to protect their integrity" and not "distract" from the Government's crime plan, read a statement from the security ministry.

Wright, an adviser to Montague, and Meadows are former election candidates for the ruling Jamaica Labour Party. The board was appointed in April last year.

Speaking on RJR's Beyond the Headlines on Monday, Wright stated that he saw no reason for the board to resign, saying, "The board has not been doing anything that may be considered corrupt or bad practice."

But all that changed by Wednesday morning as information minister Ruel Reid said the resignations came after "a series of debriefing sessions". Prime Minister Andrew Holness, reportedly, has been "very concerned" about the developments and pushed for Montague to demand that the board step aside.

The ministry statement said that in the interim, no approval should be granted for the next seven working days.

 

A GOOD START

 

Opposition Leader Dr Peter Phillips has welcomed the resignations, saying that while "it's a good start", more questions need to be answered on the operations at the FLA, which is seeing a board resigning for the second time in seven years.

"We need to know the licences that were improperly issued, [and] persons have to be held accountable," said Phillips.

Trevor Munroe, the executive director of National Integrity Action, has said that the Government needs to rethink how FLA boards are appointed. He suggested giving the power to the governor general, who acts after consultations.

Public outrage was triggered last Thursday following the leak of a police letter to the FLA questioning how alleged criminals or people with questionable character ended up with gun licences.

Additionally, senior FLA members are being probed on allegations of selling licences.

jovan.johnson@gleanerjm.com