Thu | Dec 7, 2023

Auditor general wants Transport Authority to recover $11.5m termination payout

Published:Thursday | September 28, 2023 | 12:09 AM
Willard Hylton
Willard Hylton

Auditor General Pamela Monroe Ellis has recommended that the Transport Authority (TA) take steps to recover improper payment of $11.5 million to former managing director of the company, Willard Hylton.

The recommendation is contained in a special audit report on the TA’s human resource and administration practices.

Hylton was appointed acting managing director of the TA on December 1, 2020, having served previously as manager of the Northern Regional Office and general manager of human resources and administration of the transport regulatory body.

According to the report, on March 1, 2020, the TA made payment of approximately $11.5 million to a contract officer who was purportedly terminated.

It said the termination letter did not set out the reason for separation, but instead indicated that the decision was based on discussions with the then board chairman, Joseph Shoucair.

However, the auditor general said her department was aware that Hylton, at the time of his termination on December 31, 2019, had already signed an employment contract on December 23, 2019 with Jamaica Ultimate Tyre Company Limited (JUTCL) as general manager, with an effective start date of January 1, 2020.

The auditor general found that Shoucair authorised that payment be made to Hylton for a time not served on the contract (general manager – human resource and administration), at a sum amounting to approximately $11.5 million.

“The same officer (Hylton) was reappointed by the Transport Authority approximately one year later in a higher post, to act as managing director,” Monroe Ellis stated.

“We could not determine the reason behind the termination of the officer on the basis that his assignment at JUTCL, another public body, was converted to a permanent appointment the day following his separation,” the auditor general said.

Monroe Ellis said it was expected that the TA would have simply approved his transfer to another government agency.

“On that basis, there was no need to make separation payment to the officer, only to re-engage him a year later in a higher post,” the auditor general highlighted.

June 12, 2023 is the date that the auditor general’s report was sent to Parliament for tabling.

Daryl Vaz, who was given an additional portfolio responsibility of transport as part of Cabinet changes, announced on June 15 that former police commissioner Owen Ellington would take over from Shoucair as chairman of the TA. This announcement came three days after Parliament received the special audit report on the TA from the Auditor General’s Department.

The special audit report was tabled on September 26, more than three months later, after former Speaker Marisa Dalrymple-Philibert reversed a longstanding parliamentary convention and stated that she would hold reports from the Auditor General’s Department for two months, in keeping with a provision she cited from the Financial Administration and Audit Act.

In her report to Parliament, Monroe Ellis said the former managing director’s contract, which had an effective date of December 1, 2020, did not accord with the board of directors’ November 24, 2020 decision regarding the terms of engagement.

Further, the auditor general noted that the TA’s severance payments of approximately $11.5 million to Hylton did not accord with Government of Jamaica Staff Orders.

In her conclusions and recommendations, the chief guardian of public expenditure said the regulatory body should ensure that its human resource practices are in keeping with the agency’s human resource and administration policy.

She also urged the agency to regularise its operations with the finance ministry, pertaining to the unapproved positions and contracts.

“Also in keeping with Section 20 of the Financial Administration and Audit (FAA) Act, the authority should seek to recover the improper payments of $11.5 million to the managing director that resulted from the winding up of his previous employment arrangements,” Monroe Ellis said.

Another revealing finding in the auditor general’s special audit report was that 40 positions on the TA’s staff listing were not approved by the Ministry of Finance and the Public Service, while the contracts of three senior managers were not approved by the finance ministry.

The auditor general also found evidence of expenditure totalling more than $11 million on hotel accommodation over a 15-month period. However, based on her assessment, the auditor general said the expenditure was in keeping with Government of Jamaica Guidelines and the FAA Act.

The Auditor General’s Department conducted the special audit of the TA’s human resource practices after several allegations were made against the regulatory body.

Calls to Hylton’s number triggered a recording that incoming calls to that number have been restricted.

Current managing director of the TA, Ralston Smith, told The Gleaner that he was reviewing the special audit report and would comment on it at a later date.