Opposition calls for audit of Equalisation Fund
Daraine Luton, Senior Staff Reporter
A MEMBER of the parliamentary Opposition has called for an audit of the Equalisation Fund, from which the island's parish council taps funding for infrastructural work.
Luther Buchanan, member of parliament for Eastern Westmoreland, made the call Tuesday for an audit of the fund during the Standing Finance Committee of Parliament.
The Equalisation Fund, which was established in 1997, represents 10 per cent of the revenue that is collected islandwide from property taxes. Parish councils can access funds to carry out infrastructural work in the various divisions.
Buchanan's colleague Derrick Kellier had brought a letter to the committee which outlined a commitment from the Department of Local Government for $4 million to be given to councillors in the St James Parish Council for special works.
West Central St James MP Clive Mullings is named in the letter, which states $300,000 is "to be expended through" him.
The letter sent by Montego Bay Mayor Charles Sinclair to Acting Secretary/Manager Claudett Corbett on Monday speaks to four of 17 councillors in the St James Parish Council, all members of the governing Jamaica Labour Party, getting a substantial share of the money being allocated.
Heroy Clarke (Montego Bay South East, $1 million), Mexine Bisasor (Norwood, $200,000), Homer Davis (Cambridge, $330,000) and Charles Sinclair (Montego Bay Central, $150,000) are the councillors who are to benefit most favourably from the allocation.
Sinclair, through mayoral privilege, has also allocated $350,000 to be spent on Sam Sharpe Square, a hub of the western city. The remaining $1.7 million is to be divided equally among all 17 councillors at $100,000 each.
"The way that this money is being directed by the minister, according to this letter, to be spent is nothing short of a scandal and victimisation," Kellier charged Tuesday.
"None of these divisions are represented by any member of the People's National Party," he added.
His statement was to pave the way for a fiery exchange between opposition and govern-ment members.
Mountain out of molehill
Robert Montague, state minister in the Office of the Prime Minister, who heads the Department of Local Government, said Kellier was making a mountain out of a molehill. According to Montague, any parish council, by resolution, can request a draw-down from the Equalisation Fund.
Reading a letter from the Hanover Parish Council, Montague said that council requested $30 million to do post-Tropical Storm Nicole clean-up and beautification work. He said that request paved the way for the money to be sent to the St James Parish Council as well as other municipal authorities across the island.
"The member (Portia Simpson Miller) who sits beside the gentleman from South St James (Kellier) will also inform him that disbursements from the Equal-isation Fund can't be done unless you have a letter like this from a parish council. That disbursement was done and the funds were sent to the various parishes," Montague said.
However, Kellier said the answer provided by Motague was unsatisfactory.
"That argument belong down a St Mary bush weh you come from, not here so," Kellier retorted.
Meanwhile, Dr Omar Davies, MP for South St Andrew, has asked Finance Minister Audley Shaw to examine the manner in which the Equalisation Fund is being used.
"There is, throughout the country, every opportunity taken to brand us as being dipping into the pork barrel," Davies said.