Fri | Nov 24, 2017

Corruption spree - FLA allowed investigators to travel with applicants' files; snr cop pushed for convicted man to get gun

Published:Friday | August 25, 2017 | 12:00 AMJovan Johnson
The Firearm Licensing Authority (FLA) on Old Hope Road, St Andrew
Shane Dalling CEO of Firearm Licensing Authority
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A recommendation has been made for the Firearm Licensing Authority (FLA) to put a stop to investigators taking applicants' files with them into the field for verification even as new documents emerge of a senior policeman supporting a convicted man's push to get back his firearm.

"This (practice by the investigators) poses the risks of applicant information being exposed to the public or could result in permanent loss," read a section of the report on a review the FLA ordered last year by the national security minister, Robert Montague, following Patrick Powell's acquittal in the X6 case.

The report, obtained by The Gleaner, said that "no file should be allowed to leave" the FLA, which has offices in St Andrew, where it is headquartered, St James, and Manchester.

The Gleaner has since learnt that the practice is common in western Jamaica, where even cops reportedly get access to the applications through the investigators, and the information is allegedly used by persons to extort applicants.

In another development, a senior cop based in western Jamaica wrote to the FLA's regional manager in February recommending that a "legitimate businessman" convicted of illegal gun possession and assault have his firearm returned to him.

In the letter, obtained by this newspaper, the cop said that the case leading to the conviction "was not handled appropriately" and the "well-known" man "needs his firearm to protect his life, family, and property". It is not known if the request was granted.

Yesterday, the FLA's CEO, Shane Dalling, said in a radio interview that "many" of the employees were involved in corruption. A public sector union said, however, that workers were being intimidated by senior management and past boards.

Meanwhile, the report reviewing the FLA recommended that the agency's department of investigation develop a "criteria sheet" made up of the information that the investigators need to do their off-site checks.

That criteria sheet, it said, could be supported by the implementation of a document-management system. "This system would, therefore, be easily accessible, even from a remote location, with appropriate level of access assigned to the officer."

... 'Not enough emphasis on competence, accountability, professionalism'

Since July, the Firearm Licensing Authority (FLA) has been the subject of intense public scrutiny, following the leak of documents revealing that the agency has allegedly been approving licences to people of questionable character and with political connections.

With the disclosures, the Dennis Wright-chaired board, appointed last April by the current administration, resigned after initially refusing to do so; three employees were this week dismissed; and the Major Organised Crime and Anti-Corruption Agency started a criminal probe into almost 260 questionable licences.

National Security Minister Robert Montague has also ordered another review of the FLA's systems following the one done between November 1, 2016, and January 31, 2017, and which forms the basis of this news story.

Based on the current weaknesses at the FLA identified by the report, it appears that the agency would have difficulties checking whether there was any change in the applicants' files that the investigators took to do their field work.

According to the report, the existing file-management practices "are not in keeping with established standards and best practices" in the public service. "The present file-management system does not include the classification of documents, which would protect how files are accessed, transmitted, and stored by the employees."

Training from the Cabinet Office has been recommended.

In addition, the review report said that there was need for a more robust auditing unit and pointed out that the position of senior audit officer has been vacant for almost two years. Michael Dixon, one of the three employees dismissed on Wednesday, was head of auditing.

The report said that the process of hiring and training for all levels of staff "is in urgent need of reviewing". It said that employees were not knowledgeable about the standard practices of the public service.

"There is not enough emphasis on leadership ability, requisite skill sets, job knowledge, competence, technical expertise, accountability, professionalism, risk awareness/aversion, and security practices."

It said that the recommendations, which also spoke to getting rid of overlaps in position and weak and inefficient bullet storage systems, "could help to restore confidence and trust" in the operations of the FLA.

jovan.johnson@gleanerjm.com