Wed | Jan 27, 2021

NO REVERSE - Auditor general stands by scathing bus company report as JUTC demands retraction

Published:Friday | July 31, 2020 | 12:00 AMEdmond Campbell and Romario Scott/Gleaner Writers
Auditor General Pamela Monroe Ellis speaking at a sitting of the Public Accounts Committee.

Auditor General Pamela Monroe Ellis says her department has no intention of withdrawing a performance report on the Jamaica Urban Transit Company Limited (JUTC).

The JUTC yesterday rejected the Auditor General Department’s (AuGD) report, which unearthed major breaches at the state-owned entity.

The management and board of the company want the report to be retracted, claiming that it contained inaccuracies and that points presented needed further elaboration.

“The board has written to the auditor general to retract the report because it has factual and inaccurate information,” the JUTC said in a statement to the media issued on Thursday evening.

However, Monroe Ellis said that her office would be sending a letter to the management of the JUTC, reminding them that they signed off on the report after reviewing it for nearly a month.

The AuGD started its audit of the JUTC in 2019 and sent a draft report to the company on May 26, 2020, asking the principals to respond by June 9. The auditor general said that the company requested an extension to respond and sent its response to the report on June 23.

On June 26, auditors from the AuGD held an exit interview with managing director of the JUTC, Paul Abrahams, and other officials from the state-owned bus company to discuss the report.

Monroe Ellis said that Abrahams and seven other JUTC officials signed off on the exit notes on July 6, 2020. This meant that the managing director and senior officials responded in full to the report.

The AuGD made amendments to the report as necessary and sent a copy of the final report to the JUTC on Monday, July 27, at 10 a.m. The company was advised at that time that the report would be tabled the following day in Parliament.

After being advised of the tabling of the report, the auditor general said that the JUTC did not indicate that they had any problem with the report.

Monroe Ellis said that when the matter is addressed by the Public Accounts Committee of Parliament, her department will share documents to indicate that the company had signed off on the report on July 6.

“The JUTC actually got sufficient time. The exit interview was held on June 26, where they were provided with an opportunity to sign off on the report and that they did at a later stage,” she added.

Meanwhile, one of the items in the report with which the JUTC took issue concerned parts.

“In relation to parts, supporting documents were provided for $223.4 million of parts received. The balance of $199.2 million consisted of $3.8 million of parts placed on buses during service by the dealer, $8.4 million represented tools used by the mechanics and posted to fixed asset, and $186.9 million, including upgrade to the Electronic Fare Collection System, purchase of SmarterCards, and drilling services. This was not captured by the auditor general despite providing them with the details of the expenditure.”

The JUTC said it knows that “all is not well” with the company and that it would be implementing several recommendations made in the audit report.

The bus company said that it was suffering from attrition because of the socio-political climate of the company and the failure to continue policy.

The JUTC said that all persons without qualifications must commence enrolment in a programme in the area of their specialisation no later than September 2020 at a recognised tertiary institution.

“If by this date there is no progress, the board will sanction such employee,” the JUTC said. But it is unclear whether the board possesses those powers.

It was not immediately clear if the managing director, who the auditor general said had only a high-school diploma on file, would be among those to be sent to university.

The report cites periods from 2014 to 2019 and highlights, among other things, failures of the company’s board of management, the unapproved hiring of staff above the capacity of the entity, and hundreds of millions of dollars in overtime payments although the JUTC was overstaffed.