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EDITORIAL - Good going, Mr Hickey

Published:Tuesday | September 16, 2014 | 12:00 AM

We await the fate of Dennis Hickey, the executive director of the Tourism Product Development Company (TPDCo), and/or his chairman, Maxine Henry-Wilson, - whether either, or both, get the boot. For Mr Hickey, it would be for being accountable, and Mrs Henry-Wilson for failing to rein him in.

Whatever the final outcome, their behaviour, for public officials, was refreshing. It should be emulated.

TPDCo is a government company charged with overseeing and facilitating the improvement of Jamaica's tourism product, such as attractions, which it inspects and licenses, and on whose development it sometimes advises the private sector, or other government agencies.

A fair bit of money, which ultimately belongs to taxpayers, passes through TPDCo. Its revenue for the financial year to March 2014 was nearly J$750 million, approximately half of which was a grant from the central government. Most of the rest represented support for projects from the Tourism Enhancement Fund (TEF).

That we know this, and more, about the accounts of the TPDCo, brings us back to our concern for the fate of Mr Hickey and Mrs Henry-Wilson for having released to this newspaper the in-house audited reports for the 2013-2014 financial year before they are tabled in Parliament, which, given the norm of government agencies and ministries, could be a year, or two - even more.

Government entities have a few months after the end of their financial year to complete their accounts and remit them to their portfolio ministries for review and tabling. Large swathes of them fail to meet the deadlines; many are several years behind. But even in cases when deadlines are met, derelict ministers often fail to present them to Parliament, thereby making them public documents.

AVOIDING ACCOUNTABILITY

Even then, most managers, unlike Mr Hickey, decline to release the accounts, citing protocol. Our sense is that most managers of government entities don't mind or, rather, welcome such ministerial sloth, for it helps to mask their own and shields them from scrutiny and accountability to taxpayers.

In the event, we repeat the call for an urgent change of the rules requiring government entities, like publicly listed companies, to produce quarterly unaudited accounts, and audited annual ones, within a set time frame after the close of the accounting period and that these should be public documents. Failure should be on the pain of penalties against the managers.

In the meantime, we urge other managers who are efficient in the preparation of their accounts to follow Mr Hickey's example and not to hide behind ministerial ramparts. Accountability is good. Indeed, we have seen people awarded high national honour for acts of far less import than Dennis Hickey's.

Who owns Nutrition Products Ltd?

We had always assumed that the Jamaican Government owned Nutrition Products Limited (NPL), the company that provides meals for students of state-run schools and to which taxpayers, via the Government's Budget, contributed J$744 million during 2011-12 financial year, the last one for which its financial accounts are available.

A special report by the auditor general on the company last year does not say that NPL is owned by the Government, but doesn't say how that conclusion was arrived at. Indeed, as this newspaper has more than once pointed out, the records at the Companies Office of Jamaica do not list the shares as being owned by any department, institution or constitutional agent of the Government of Jamaica.

So, what's the deal? NPL's chairman, Ewart Gilzene, and its GM, Orville Lewison, should explain. They might also say why they are so tardy with their accounts.

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