Erica Virtue, Senior Gleaner Writer
The National Irrigation Commission (NIC) is now searching for the eleven 1,000-gallon black tanks supposedly issued to select beneficiaries under the water harvesting programme days before the 2011 general election.
Eleven registered farmers in St Mary and Manchester were reported to have been given the tanks, but at least three were not delivered to the St Mary farmers, and the Manchester beneficiaries are unknown.
Last week, permanent secretary in the Ministry of Agriculture, Donovan Stanberry, said he could not provide any information about the whereabouts of the tanks.
Stanberry was also unable to say when an external audit of the NIC, requested by Agriculture Minister Roger Clarke, would begin.
"Right now, we are preoccupied with the Budget, but I have requested certain documents about the programme since the whole matter came up in the press," said Stanberry.
"I have made some preliminary inquiries and documentation was given to me, and those will be handed over to the auditor general," added Stanberry.
No further comment
According to Stanberry, he did not want to comment further on the matter as it will be the subject of the auditor general's probe.
Winston Shaw, acting manager of the On-Farm Water Management Unit at the NIC, said the tanks were the property of the state agency.
Shaw admitted that NIC's internal auditors raised questions about the 11 tanks.
"When our auditors raised questions, my view was that if we paid for those tanks, we need to find out where they are and put them in our storeroom."
The Sunday Gleaner has received reports that the three farmers who should have received the tanks in St Mary did not collect them so those could still be in the possession of the hardware store which was paid a little more than $33,000 for each tank.
"When the government changed, there was a lot of 'suss' about the programme. Words were being thrown around that people were going to lose their benefits and at least three persons just said they should keep their tanks," a source close to the agriculture minister reported last week.
"Those tanks should be at the stores from which they were bought," added the source,
Last week, Robert Montaque, who was the agriculture minister at the time, declined to comment on the matter.
He argued that the programme is now the subject of a special audit, and he would rather say what he has to say to the auditor general.
Activities at the NIC, including the water harvesting programme, will be under the searchlight of Auditor General Pamela Monroe Ellis, who will, among other things, examine contracts valued $270,000 each which were awarded to at least nine individuals to supply water to farmers in Manchester and St Mary.
The auditor general will also probe the circumstances under which hardware stores in Manchester and St Ann were paid $342,507.12 for 11 water tanks, some of which were undelivered.
Monroe Ellis has confirmed that since early last year, her team has been making plans to conduct a probe of the NIC.