Wed | Sep 26, 2018

A failure at accountability

Published:Wednesday | September 17, 2014 | 12:00 AM

A.C. Countz, Guest Columnist

The Passport Immigration and Citizenship Agency (PICA) has had no accounts for the last six years.

The last accounts audited by the auditor general was for March 2008.

PICA was established on June 1, 2007 as an executive agency to be a self-financing, performance-based and service-oriented institution.

As an executive agency, the organisation is required to achieve certain performance indicators as a measure of its efficiency and success.

Among these targets are: processing passengers at ports in no more than two minutes, and processing passport applications submitted to its Kingston offices within seven days and 14 days for applications made through its offices in Montego Bay.

Additionally, local applications for Jamaican citizenship by descent are processed within 30 days.

How can an important executive agency like PICA have no accounts available to the public after March 2008? There are some very sensible people on the advisory board - how can they lend their names to this failure to be accountable, to say nothing of CEO Jennifer McDonald?

Banana Board held up by MinFin

We are grateful to Donovan Stanberry, interim chairman of the Banana Board, for his full and well-reasoned letter to the editor in response to this column.

Stanberry suggests that the Banana Board has held up the release of its 2014 annual report because it "is determined to clear the issues related to the constant qualification of its accounts".

The responsible loans arose in 1983 and it seems ridiculous that these matters have not been resolved after 30 years. Ministry of Finance, please wake up!

We await the action of the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, and the Ministry of Finance to resolve these matters with the Banana Board.

Mr Stanberry indicates that the profit made by the Banana Board did not arise from funding given by the European Union, and no doubt he is right.

Let us hope that the continued interest of Mr Stanberry will lead to a massive increase in banana production and the early release of current accounts

Ministry of Justice joking around

Demesha Ellis, acting access officer of the Ministry of Justice (MOJ), has written to say that the innocuous information requested by this column "could not be released until presented to the Cabinet".

The three bits of information requested were date of last audited accounts, last three audited accounts, and in-house accounts to December 31, 2013.

The implication of Ellis's reply is that the Cabinet has not yet approved the last three annual audited accounts. If this is so, then someone in the Ministry of Justice or the Cabinet Office should be sanctioned for such a disregard of accountability.

We await clarification from Permanent Secretary Carol Palmer, and copies of the requested information.

Traffic warrants ineffectual

The Ministry of Justice tells us that in the period January to June (2014?), 320 warrants were issued for traffic breaches - last year 2,419 were issued - with only 15, that is, one in twenty, being "closed". Last year, 98 were closed.

If 'closed' means 'served' or 'paid', then this is a disgraceful performance. Who is responsible?

The number of outstanding traffic tickets at each year end has been falling over the last three years - 24,762 at the end of 2013 compared to 110,865 in 2011.

Kingston has been responsible for largest fall over the three years, from 86,116 in 2011, to 2,784 at end of 2013.

If these numbers provided by the MOJ are correct, and one wonders, then, whoever is responsible in Kingston should be congratulated.

Similarly, the value of tickets outstanding according to the MOJ has fallen from $242 million in 2011 end to $25 million at the end of 2013. These numbers seem too good to believe.

These numbers have been provided in a surprisingly unstructured response from the MOJ to a request under the Access to Information Act.

This column kindly paid $80 to acquire the eight pages of information provided. Surely, information on traffic tickets should be published regularly and be available on a website! Why does the ministry charge for public information only requested because of a failure by the Government of Jamaica to publish timely information?

The administration of the MOJ consists of Minister Mark Golding, Attorney General Patrick Atkinson, Permanent Secretary Carol Palmer, Director of Public Prosecutions Paula LLewellyn, Chief Parliamentary Counsel Albert Edwards, Solicitor General Nicole Foster-Pusey, and Director of Legal Reform Maurice Bailey. Do any of these important people also share this column's concern about greater transparency on the statistics relating to traffic tickets?

New traffic fines coming

Two hundred and seventy two thousand traffic tickets were issued in 2013 with resultant fines of $489 million. Kingston, St James and Manchester are the parishes that issue more than 20,000 tickets.

The JCF Band Division should be commended for issuing the same number of tickets as the Flying Squad - two!

Year 2013 appears, from the data supplied to have been an amazing year for ticket payments. After adjustment for outstanding tickets at year end, the data suggests that over 300,000 tickets were paid in 2013 with only a few being served warrants.

This seems unlikely, but maybe someone responsible can explain the numbers.

The proposed new Traffic Act seeks to introduce larger fines for traffic offences - and there are many.

Here is a sample:

Dangerous driving: $250,000

Aiding or abetting dangerous driving: $100,000.

Driving away motor vehicle without consent: $100,000.

Wilfully defacing any record of the authority: $100,000.

Giving instructions to a person to complete a journey within specified time knowing that it is not possible: $40,000.

Driving under influence of alcohol or drugs: $50,000.

Damaging road sign: $50,000.

Exceeding speed limit - by 16kmh to 32kmh: $15,000; by 33kmh to 49kmh: $30,000; by 50kmh or more: $45,000.

Failing to obey red light: $24,000.

Licence disc obscured: $20,000.

Licence plate obscured: $10,000.

Motor cycle rider without helmet: $10,000.

Motor cycle pillion rider without helmet: $10,000.

Any person in motor vehicle without seat belt: $10,000.

Driver failing to make passenger wear seat belt: $10,000.

These larger fines are probably justified - in most cases.

But the new Commissioner of Police is going to have to find a way to stop the road police holding drivers to corrupt ransom.

Higher fines mean greater opportunity to shake down the motorist. Let's start hearing from now what action is going to be taken

This column reviews the audited and in-house accounts and reports of companies and entities owned or influenced by Government.

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PICA Responsible Officials

Minister: Peter Bunting

CEO: Jennifer McDonald

Advisory Board: Leahcim Semaj (chairman), Earl Jarrett, Anna Perkins, Daniel Archer, Evelyn Smith, Lorraine, Patterson, Donald Sutherland.