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Audit reveals questionable spending under Agro Park projects

Published:Wednesday | November 12, 2014 | 11:54 AM
Hicky... audit contains what he calls egregious omission of critical facts.

Damion Mitchell, Editor - Radio & Online



KINGSTON, Jamaica:

An internal audit of the Agriculture Ministry's Agro-Investment Corporation (AIC) has unveiled grave findings of questionable spending amounting to millions of dollars.




The AIC is the entity responsible for the establishment and management of the Government's much-touted agro-parks.



But the former AIC chairman, Dennis Hicky, has rejected some of the findings of the audit, saying the management of the Corporation has provided justified explanations, at least for the period he served as the head of the board.



Hicky, also says the internal audit contains what he calls egregious omission of critical facts.



His charge is contained in a letter dated November 7, 2014 addressed to the Permanent Secretary in the Agriculture Ministry, Donovan Stanberry.



The audit, completed in August this year, found that ASCO Project Consultants was awarded the contract for the eight agro parks because it submitted the lowest bid at a rate of 5 per cent of the construction cost.



However, nine weeks after the contract was signed, AIC increased the payment rate by 50 per cent to 7.5 per cent of the construction cost.



This made ASCO the most expensive three bidders with Rivi Gardener and Associates at 6.5 per cent of the construction cost and WGB limited at 6.75 per cent.



The management of AIC has sought to explain that the increase in the rate of payment to ASCO was to account for the addition of a project to improve the complex of the Agricultural Marketing Corporation, which was not in the original scope of work.



But the auditors say although a project to improve the complex of the Agricultural Marketing Corporation was indeed added, the scope of work did not change and there was no evidence to suggest that the management of the AIC sought or received from its board, approval for the changes.



On that point, the management of the AIC has conceded that there were shortfalls and that it failed to establish and document the deliverables for the improvement of the complex of the Agricultural Marketing Corporation.



The also auditors found that ASCO was overpaid $9 million for works it claim was done.



It has recommended that efforts be made to recover all the amounts overpaid.



In the meantime, Hicky is conceding that there had long been serious concerns about the running of the Agriculture Ministry's Agro-Investment Corporation.



In his letter to the permanent secretary, Hicky said the AIC was a "cesspool" when he took over as chairman and that's why he begged both Stanberry and the Auditor General for an audit.



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