Fri | Jun 24, 2022

Permanent secretaries bound by expenditure rules – Palmer

Published:Friday | May 20, 2022 | 12:12 AMTanesha Mundle/Staff Reporter

Carol Palmer, permanent secretary in the Ministry of Science, Energy, and Technology, said Thursday that permanent secretaries are not at liberty to vary the ministry guidelines on how taxpayers’ money should be spent and are obliged to follow all the guidelines.

At the same time, Palmer admitted that she could not guarantee compliance from the workers under her jurisdiction in following the guidelines.

“I can’t ensure, sir, I can only instruct,” she said.

Palmer, who is giving evidence in the ongoing fraud trial of former Petrojam board chairman Dr Perceval Bahado-Singh and former general manager Floyd Grindley, made the admission while being quizzed by Grindley’s attorney, K.D Knight, QC, about the protocols and guidelines that are instituted by government ministries governing issues such as travel allowances.

Both Petrojam former bigwigs are being tried in the Kingston and St Andrew Parish Court in relation to alleged fraudulent travel allowance claims amounting to US$73,620. Grindley is alleged to have aided the former chairman in making the fraudulent claims.

Palmer also agreed that the ministries, in setting guidelines and protecting taxpayers’ money, sometimes provide the definition of terms given in official documents, such as in Circular 21, in which an overseas trip is defined as travel from Jamaica to overseas.

“And if your opinion differs from what the circular for the ministries says, your opinion is irrelevant?” Knight asked.

“Your opinion is irrelevant, yes,” she answered.

Palmer, while noting that she is personally aware of the circular’s definition for overseas travel, also agreed with Knight’s suggestion that guidelines are sometimes breached because of carelessness, a lack of knowledge, and, possibly, criminal intent.

In further questions from Knight, Palmer accepted that she could not change the rules that are set by the Ministry of Finance under the signature of the financial secretary.

“And should you attempt to change the rule, those over whom you have control need not follow the changes you make, correct?” he asked, to which she replied, “Yes.”

Palmer further agreed that a junior officer could disobey a command from a senior officer if it is wrong and should provide a report that he or she was wrongfully instructed and had refused.

The trial will continue Friday with the evidence from Kevin Senior, director of information systems at the Ministry of Science, Energy and Technology.

Attorney-at-law Bianca Samuels also represents Grindley, while Bert Samuels and Matthew Hyatt appear for Bahado-Singh.