Mon | Oct 25, 2021

Gov’t members hound auditor general in media leak inquiry

Published:Wednesday | May 19, 2021 | 12:15 AMEdmond Campbell/Senior Parliamentary Reporter
Auditor General Pamela Monroe Ellis.
Auditor General Pamela Monroe Ellis.
Robert Miller
Robert Miller
Dwight Sibblies
Dwight Sibblies
Heroy Clarke
Heroy Clarke
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Government members of a parliamentary oversight committee on Tuesday caused eyebrows to arch when they insisted that Auditor General Pamela Monroe Ellis divulge the name of a Gleaner journalist who contacted the country’s chief auditor to confirm a date of an exit interview her department attended in January last year.

Despite unyielding pressure on Monroe Ellis to name the reporter, the head of the Auditor General’s Department said that she would not break from tradition and name any person during the committee meetings.

Further, committee Chairman Julian Robinson made it clear that he would not ask Monroe Ellis to name any reporter during the proceedings of the committee.

In a startling development, Robert Miller, a first-time lawmaker, made this request: “Can the auditor general tell the committee as to who from The Gleaner contacted her?”

Responding, Monroe Ellis said: “Mr Chairman, I am not going to provide that information. I generally do not provide information at the committee when names are asked.”

Miller also indicated that he had seen a “trend” where the auditor general had said she would not answer certain questions.

“Chair, if you allow that to happen, it would set a bad precedent,” Miller said.

However, Monroe Ellis countered by saying, “At no time last week did I indicate that I will not provide an answer. I simply said that I cannot be forced to provide an answer that I do not have at the moment, and I pleaded with the committee members to give me an opportunity to review the records to see, because I just could not remember.”

Two-term MP and PAC member Heroy Clarke was seemingly not satisfied with the response from the auditor general.

“Parliament supersedes all courts. This is the final court, and when members that are employed to Parliament is ( sic) brought before Parliament to answer questions, we expect to get the answer,” he charged.

NAME NEEDED

Lothan Cousins, MP for Clarendon South West, questioned the “probative value of asking the auditor general who she spoke to.”

He further queried if the committee could summon the reporter to Parliament if the name was provided.

Senior opposition lawmaker Dr Morais Guy said that the custom during PAC meetings had been that the auditor general did not name officers or public officials in her reports.

“I sat on this PAC since 2002 when the predecessor to the current AG (Adrian Strachan) did his reports, and on no occasion have any of the committee meetings been blessed with the names of any of the officers who have been part of the missteps in terms of the report,” said Guy.

“... If the reporters of this country – and we have accused them in the past of not being investigative reporters – if some have started on a route to become investigative reporters why is it that we are, as this committee, seeking to determine who was it that spoke to the AG on this particular matter?” he further queried.

Earlier during the committee meeting, Dwight Sibblies, MP for Clarendon Northern, first raised the issue about a report published on Monday by this newspaper confirming that Monroe Ellis was at Gordon House on January 29, 2020 for a PAC meeting which was later cancelled.

Last week, there were howls of queries as to why the auditor general did not attend the January 29 exit meeting with Ministry of Finance auditors.

However, this newspaper requested the schedule from Parliament and sent questions regarding the meeting and why it was eventually cancelled.

The Parliament confirmed that on January 29, 2020 the auditor general’s name was recorded in an attendance book at Gordon House.

Sibblies directed this comment to the auditor general: “We had requested some information from you, Madam Auditor General, and having requested it we hope that information would have come to us before it reached the media ... .”

He asked Monroe Ellis if she was interviewed by the media on the questions raised about the exit interview during the PAC meeting last week.

The auditor general said: “I had no interview with the media. I was asked to confirm the date of the exit interview, which was January 29th, and that was the extent of what I was asked. I was asked nothing else, I provided no additional information.”

Responding, Sibblies said: “Would you agree with me, therefore, that based on the article, the details of the article, it is good reason that we would be concerned that based on the information, it seems to have come from your office.”

In a quick response, Monroe Ellis dismissed the assertion, saying, “I cannot be asked to answer for a Jamaica Gleaner article, Mr Chairman. I think it is best that the journalist be contacted and an enquiry made as to how he came by his information.”

edmond.campbell@gleanerjm.com