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Rogue election body - Audit finds ECJ in perpetual breach

Published:Wednesday | December 5, 2012 | 12:00 AM
Professor Errol Miller, chairman of the Electoral Commission of Jamaica.

Edmond Campbell, Senior Staff Reporter

THE ELECTORAL Commission of Jamaica (ECJ), often praised for being one of the leading bodies of its kind in the Caribbean, has been assessed and found wanting in a number of critical areas evaluated by the Auditor General's Department (AGD).

In an information systems review report of the ECJ, the Pamela Monroe-Ellis-led AGD painted the commission as an entity that has made a habit of ignoring directives and regulations.

Since its inception in December 1, 2006, the ECJ has not produced a set of audited financial statements.

The AGD has made it clear that the electoral body is required to produce these statements in accordance with section 16 of the Electoral Commission (Interim) Act (ECIA).

The Auditor General says the absence of these statements prevented the Parliament from reviewing the Commission's financial performance to determine whether the ECJ's resources were applied for the purposes authorised by the ECIA or other relevant laws.

Over $4 million excess pay

The ECJ's approved estimates of expenditure for the year ended March 31, 2012 was $2.9 billion while for 2011 the sum was $761.7 million.

The AGD also found that the ECJ ignored a directive of the Ministry of Finance to pay the deputy director of elections at a certain level.

According to the AGD, this resulted in an excess salary payment of $4.66 million to the deputy director of elections for the period September 2010 to March 2012.

The auditor general says the Commission should take urgent steps to have these matters regularised. It says the ECJ should recover all excess payments and ensure that all future payments are made in accordance with the relevant guidelines.

"Failure to recover the excess amounts could lead to a possible surcharge action against the responsible officials," the AGD warned.

The auditor general also found that the ECJ 'benchmarked' the salaries of the director and the deputy director of elections against the posts of director general and deputy director general of the Office of Utilities Regulation (OUR) without any approval from Parliament or the minister responsible for electoral matters as required by the Electoral Commission (Interim) Act.

In addition, the AGD says the Ministry of Finance's approval was not obtained as required by section 20 of the Public Bodies Management and Accountability Act.

"We found no substantial reasons for the benchmarking to the OUR posts especially since the OUR is a self-financing entity and the ECJ receives most of its income from the Consolidated Fund.

The ECJ told the AGD that the decision to benchmark the director's salary to that of the OUR director general was arrived at after consultations with a former Cabinet Secretary because the previous post to which the director was benchmarked no longer existed in the public service.

Sudden resignation

However, the AGD was not provided with copies of the related correspondence between the former Cabinet secretary and the ECJ chairman.

The commission noted that "following the sudden resignation of the former director of elections in 2008, the ECJ found that there was nothing in place to facilitate continuity in the management of the EOJ (Electoral Office of Jamaica). The ECJ, therefore, took the decision to appoint a deputy director of elections and wrote to the Ministry of Finance advising of the decision."

It was noted that initially the ministry did not approve the creation of the post of deputy director. The post was eventually approved and classified within a specific established civil service grade.

Attempts to reach the chairman of the ECJ Professor Errol Miller for a comment was unsuccessful as his phone rang with an answer. Miller has announced he is stepping down from the chairmanship of the ECJ next month.