Gov't threatens to cut parish council funding
With parish councils being scrutinised more over corruption allegations, the Government has declared that it will withhold money from them if they fail to follow established rules, even as the Opposition questions if that can really be done.
"I am making it clear, the Ministry of Local Government will not be releasing any funding to the local authorities unless the rules are observed," Local Government Minister Desmond McKenzie charged in the House of Representatives on Wednesday.
McKenzie was making his contribution to the Sectoral Debate.
The Government has been left embarrassed by recent reports from the Office of the Contractor General which have highlighted various instances of alleged corruption at the Hanover Parish Council.
In the most recent high-profile case, Lloyd Hill and Anthony Walker, People's National Party councillors in the Hanover council, were accused of awarding contracts to family members and political affiliates.
McKenzie admitted that the image of local government and the local authorities has been "shaken and battered by the very serious revelations".
However, he said even amid criticisms that his ministry wants to shut down local government, "his administration will not stand aside and allow breaches of the public trust to occur".
"We are serious about enforcing the existing procurement and other financial rules, and we are tying the payment of monies to the local authorities, to their strict compliance".
However, Opposition PNP Spokesman Noel Arscott says McKenzie has more explanation to do over the threat to withhold funds.
"He could not withhold funds, for example, to pay the staff of the council and if persons are found culpable, they would have to deal with the person. To hold funds in a blanket form could not be done," Arscott argued.
"He needs to explain what exactly he is talking about. There are guidelines set down that must be implemented".
The Government has said it intends to audit all 13 local authorities "to ensure that appropriate systems are implemented to make them significantly more efficient and accountable".
Forensic accountant Collin Greenland has argued that the Government needs to conduct fraud-risk assessments throughout the local councils, saying without the assessments, the "alleged atrocities at the Hanover Parish Council may not only continue to permeate other councils, but remain undetected and unpunished".
In the meantime, audit committees and standing operating procedures are among the measures to be implemented in the councils as part of the anti-corruption drive.
McKenzie has issued a public invitation to Helene Davis Whyte, the general secretary of the Jamaica Association of Local Government Associations and Scean Barnswell, president of the Association of Local Government Authorities, to meet with him over the developments. Under the law, the parish councils are accountable to the minister.