Mon | Oct 25, 2021

FLA sought no legal opinion from attorney general on payouts – CEO

Published:Wednesday | July 14, 2021 | 12:11 AMEdmond Campbell/Senior Parliamentary Reporter

Shane Dalling, chief executive officer of the Firearm Licensing Authority (FLA), sought on Tuesday to make a case before Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee (PAC) that legal advice he received from private counsel justified his decision to enter into separation agreements with five members of staff in 2017, based on the fixed-term contract policy of the Ministry of Finance.

However, when quizzed by committee members, Dalling conceded that he did not obtain a legal opinion on the matter from the attorney general’s chambers.

He said that the FLA was entitled to its own legal counsel.

Auditor General Pamela Monroe Ellis, in her annual report, had raised a red flag in relation to the action of the FLA, saying the entity had overpaid the workers $8 million in termination benefits, in contravention of the guidelines set out by the Ministry of Finance.

The FLA head said that Section 9 (1) of the fixed-term contract policy of the Ministry of Finance states that “contracts may be amended by mutual agreement to facilitate changes in the terms and conditions of employment prior to the expiration date”.

He said that there were mutual agreements, and separations were done amicably on the terms set out in the contract policy.

However, the auditor general had reported that payment of termination benefits contrary to the ministry’s guidelines, exposed the FLA to increased risk of loss.

The FLA terminated the employment of the former employees in 2017, and remunerated them with notice pay ranging from three months to 20 months and gratuity, without the requisite performance evaluations.

“The auditor general’s view is that she does not believe that Section 9 (1) of the fixed-term contract policy was intended for that purpose. I maintain strong objection to that because I believe that the section is clear enough to facilitate a change in the terms and the conditions of the employment contract,” Dalling insisted.

Members of the PAC were also told that the Ministry of National Security, the parent body of the FLA, had been informed about the arrangement.

However, St Andrew East Rural Member of Parliament Juliet Holness wanted to know whether the Ministry of Finance was consulted on the adjustments made by the FLA.

In supporting Holness’ query, Monroe Ellis said that it was the finance ministry that has the authority to make a determination on the issue.

“Mr Dalling has documented his views on this matter. I have documented mine, and I maintain that this represents an overpayment,” the auditor general said.

Monroe Ellis said that the practice might still be continuing at the FLA based on Dalling’s interpretation.

“My responsibility as auditor general is to highlight these matters when there are breaches and to make recommendations for recovery of the Government’s funds,” Monroe Ellis argued.

The committee agreed that the separation contract debacle at the FLA should be brought to the attention of the finance ministry, which should seek legal opinion from the attorney general’s chambers on the matter.

edmond.campbell@gleanerjm.com