Wed | Sep 28, 2022

Cloud hangs over Sibblies

UTech says MP no longer chief internal auditor but sidesteps details

Published:Monday | June 7, 2021 | 12:14 AMEdmond Campbell/Senior Staff Reporter
Dwight Sibblies, MP for Clarendon Northern.
Dwight Sibblies, MP for Clarendon Northern.

Dwight Sibblies, the member of parliament for Clarendon Northern, has stepped aside from his role as chief internal auditor at the University of Technology (UTech) amid deepening enquiry into whether his political role and other public-sector job...

Dwight Sibblies, the member of parliament for Clarendon Northern, has stepped aside from his role as chief internal auditor at the University of Technology (UTech) amid deepening enquiry into whether his political role and other public-sector job are on a collision course.

Scrutiny is also being brought to bear on whether Sibblies should have relinquished his position at the university while he was on the hustings campaigning for political power.

More than 48 hours after The Gleaner sent probing questions to Colin Gyles, president of the UTech, about Sibblies’ role at the university, the administration issued a late-evening statement on Sunday saying that in a reported “mutual” agreement between Sibblies and “all the relevant parties”, it was agreed that based on the University of Technology Jamaica Act and the human resources policies of the tertiary institution, “secondment arrangements would be pursued”.

However, the university did not provide details on the position to which Sibblies was being seconded or the date of that putative transfer.

The university failed to answer questions on Friday about whether the MP was receiving a full salary and emoluments from the institution.

But UTech’s assertions of Sibblies’ new dispensation have been contradicted by well-placed Gleaner sources that indicate that Sibblies still maintained the post of chief internal auditor up to at least two weeks ago.

Calls to Sibblies' cell phone went unanswered on Sunday.

The UTech said in Sunday’s missive that “pursuant to Mr Sibblies being sworn into political office on September 15, 2020, as a member of parliament, the university sought advice from both the Ministry of Education, Youth and Information and the Attorney General Chambers”.

The UTech said that it requested and received a legal opinion from the attorney general dated February 8, 2021. Based on that legal opinion, “the act does not prohibit employees from being MPs. There is, therefore, no basis in the act to conclude, without more, that Mr Sibblies cannot continue to work for the university on account of him being an MP”.

Sibblies was employed to the UTech as a finance audit officer by contract of employment dated August 4, 1997. He subsequently rose to the position of chief internal auditor in 2001.

Earlier on Sunday, president of the Jamaica Civil Service Association, O’Neil Grant, said that Sibblies’ job as chief internal auditor at the UTech and member of parliament sitting on the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) and five other parliamentary committees placed him in a conflicted position.

“Not only that he is the chief internal auditor at UTech, but he puts himself in a position of conflict because from time to time, the Public Accounts Committee will be asking the University of Technology to report to the Public Accounts Committee or the Public Administration and Appropriations Committee (PAAC),” Grant told The Gleaner.

Jeanette Calder, executive director of the Jamaica Accountability Meter Portal, described the development as “deeply troubling as many Jamaicans offering themselves up for service had to resign from secure positions in Government with the uncertainty of success at the polls”.

UTech receives substantial funding from the Government and has, in the past, been audited by the Auditor General’s Department.

Jamaican taxpayers funded the UTech to the tune of $2.9 billion as set out in the Budget for 2021-2022.

According to the JCSA president, Sibblies’ reports that were done at UTech could be the subject of consideration by his colleagues in the House.

“This is the very reason why people in central administration and public bodies do not continue to hold these positions because they can’t sit on both sides – they can’t sit on the administration side and the executive side of public administration,” he reasoned.

Grant argued that if Sibblies should submit a report as chief internal auditor, he could be called on to discuss his stewardship by the very committee, particularly the PAC and the PAAC, of which he is a member.

Further, Grant noted that government auditors and those in public bodies can be summoned by the Audit Inspectorate Division of the Ministry of Finance to discuss reports that they have submitted to the unit.

Grant argued that it would be an absurd situation that Sibblies, who is also an MP in his substantive employed position, would now be talking to a unit within the Ministry of Finance that is dealing with auditors.

“What I have seen other persons do is that when it is that the institutions that they are a part of, that they now are going to be sitting in the House, most of them take a leave of absence from their jobs so they don’t put themselves in a conflict. I have never heard of a situation where anyone continues to hold on to his position,” he added.

Commenting on the Clarendon MP’s entry into politics while holding his job at the Tech, Calder said, “Both MP Sibblies and the University of Technology would be complicit in breaching the Public Service Staff Orders, and neither can find cover in ignorance.

“MP Sibblies is chief auditor, and by virtue of same, would be very familiar with the rules and policy. This does not augur well for one who is now charged with oversight of government rules and regulations on the Public Accounts Committee,” she asserted.

The Staff Orders of the Public Services (4.2.6) states that officers are expressly forbidden to engage in any type of partisan political activity in any elections at any level.

Grant told The Gleaner that in the normal course of business, persons who are public officers - except teachers - are not allowed to participate in representational politics.

However, the JCSA president said a grey area exists as to whether the Public Service Regulations of 1961 and Staff Orders generally apply to the academic staff and administrative staff at the UTech.

“The general rule is that where someone is employed to an entity funded by the public purse and is receiving compensation otherwise, there is always the issue if persons are being paid twice,” he said.

edmond.campbell@gleanerjm.com