Thu | Mar 21, 2019

JRC board cleans up mess

Published:Tuesday | January 21, 2014 | 12:00 AM

THE BOARD of the Jamaica Railway Corporation (JRC) is working feverishly to try to get the balance sheet of the state-owned entity unqualified after its financial records have been in a mess for decades.

This move comes as the Government contemplates whether to split up the assets of the beleaguered corporation and sell it in parts or divest the company to one of two investors who have showed an interest in reviving the service.

For years the JRC's balance sheet has been qualified because the corporation had debts on its books, dating back to the 1960s, that it had not been servicing. A qualified opinion indicates that the information provided was limited in scope or the company has not maintained proper accounting principles.

$500 million in loans

At least three loans from 1961 to 1991 totalling about $500 million have not been serviced by the corporation. The balance sheet of the entity showed loans from the then colonial government in 1961, the Jamaica Labour Party administration in 1982 and the People's National Party Government in 1991.

The Government ceased from providing loans to the JRC in 1992, the same year the corporation closed its public passenger service. It reopened offering limited public passenger service in 2011 but later closed in August 2012.

Now the current board of the JRC, chaired by Joseph A. Matalon, is on a relentless drive to tidy up the messy financial state of the decades-old corporation.

"What we are trying to do now at the finance committee level, which is chaired by Steve Distant (local banker), is to see how best we can get our balance sheet unqualified, and one of those issues is the long outstanding debt," he told The Gleaner in a recent interview.

The JRC chairman pointed out that the corporation did not provide an audited set of statements and an annual report for four years before the current board took over. "From 2008-2009 to my first year as chairman, there was no audited balance statement and financial statement that were prepared for the JRC. Nowadays, if I miss something by a week or two weeks, the Ministry of Finance and the Ministry of Transport are on to my case about what is the situation," he added.

And now in his second year as chairman, the JRC head said his team has succeeded in cutting the hemorrhaging at the cash-strapped corporation.

The corporation was able to turn a small operating profit from a massive $68-million loss by the latter part of the 2012-2013 financial year.