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EDITORIAL - Something smells at JCF's transport branch

Published:Thursday | November 29, 2012 | 12:00 AM

THERE IS something rotten at the Jamaica Constabulary Force's (JCF) Transport and Repair Branch, and it is more than the rusting vehicle pile-up at its garages. And it smells, too.

What we are not as yet clear about, though, is the underlying cause of the stench stirred up by Auditor General Pamela Monroe Ellis in a report presented to Parliament this week: mere incompetence or something worse.

The prima facie evidence suggests the latter. For now, however, we give the JCF the benefit of the doubt, opting for the least bad of two poor options.

But whatever is ultimately the truth, it is critical that the police chief, Mr Owen Ellington, quickly assures the public that the rot unearthed by the auditor general has been cauterised, including holding to account the leadership of the Transport and Repair Branch, and whoever else may be responsible for the fiasco. This should include, but not limited to, preferring criminal charges against anyone found to have broken laws.

massive discrepancies

Indeed, Mr Ellington must be aware that failure to act swiftly will only undermine the already weakened public confidence in the police force, undoing the gains of recent years in rebuilding the battered image of the JCF.

The issue at hand, of course, is the auditor general's discovery of massive discrepancies in the reporting and accountability system of the police repair garages, making it difficult to determine if taxpayers get fair, or any value at all, for what they pay. Or, frankly, whether taxpayers are being stolen from big time, right under the nose of the police.

In one case, reported by Mrs Monroe Ellis, taxpayers were asked to pay approximately $1 million for the repair of 13 police vehicles. But seven of those vehicles, accounting for more than half the repair cost, were, the records suggest, "disposed of" prior to the dates of their supposed repair.

There are cases of large sums of money being spent to repair vehicles then they were quickly disposed of. We suppose that "disposed of" means that these vehicles were repaired and sold, although to whom and at what price is not clear.

serious duplication

Then there is the matter of at least 17 vehicles that are supposedly in the JCF's fleet but have the same engine and chassis numbers as vehicles registered to private individuals by the tax authorities. It would be useful to determine whether this unlikely duplication exists in reality, and if not, how the error occurred.

It seems, too, that mechanics and other auto technicians, who operate akin to independent contractors, are paid on a task basis and have no documented rates for the jobs they are assigned, or criteria for their engagement. Does the JCF appear to have a good accounting system for fleet repairs contracted to independent garages?

While the system must be fixed and persons held accountable for this waste - and perhaps more - of taxpayers' money, arrangements have to be implemented to ensure that they don't recur. We, in this regard, question whether the police should operate major repair garages. Outsourcing the maintenance of the JCF vehicles on the basis of transparent bidding might be part of the solution.

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