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PAAC makes recommendations to improve accountability in ministries

BY ALPHEA SAUNDERS
Senior staff reporter
saundersa@jamaicaobserver.com

Thursday, November 08, 2018

THE Cabinet Office and Ministry of Finance and the Public Service have been urged to develop regulations for ministries, agencies and departments of Government regarding the employment of ex-offenders in the public service.

This is among the six recommendations contained in the report on deliberations with the agencies under the Ministry of Science and Technology, and the Office of the Prime Minister, which have appeared before the Public Administration and Appropriations Committee (PAAC) of Parliament over the past several months.

The PAAC discussed the report at its retreat last week.

The document is to be tabled in the House of Representatives next week, Committee Chairman Dr Wykeham McNeill told yesterday's meeting of the committee at Gordon House.

“Employment application forms for all ministries, departments and agencies should include questions on previous convictions but ex-offenders, whose records have been expunged, would not be required to state their previous convictions. …We thought there were certain positions that would require persons to indicate if they have prior convictions, and others that do not. There has to be a clear decision as to which ones do and which ones do not and that it must be included on the application forms for those positions,” he said.

The recommendation has been made against the background of controversy surrounding former head of National Energy Solutions Limited (NeSol) Carolyn Warren, after she admitted to past multiple criminal convictions.

Warren eventually quit her post at the agency, which falls under the energy portfolio, and which has been placed temporarily in the Office of the Prime Minister.

The PAAC has also recommended that all ministers and heads of agencies should, within 60 days of their appointment, receive instructions on Government of Jamaica procurement rules. The committee said the burden should be on these persons to apprise themselves of the relevant information.

Additionally, the PAAC is recommending that permanent secretaries or their nominees must sit on the boards of all agencies; that all central ministries should have the authority to conduct random mini audits of agencies; and the establishment of rules for the frequency of board meetings, and the submission of management reports.

“This came out of the fact that, during our deliberations, too often we saw when questions were put to the permanent secretaries they were saying they were not informed, they don't sit on the boards (and) they didn't have direct oversight. We always have known the permanent secretaries to be the accountable officer and as such they must be given the powers to exercise that accountability,” McNeill stated.

The parliamentary oversight committee is also seeking to have procedures developed that will allow it to routinely scrutinise projects and programmes that have exceeded more than 15 per cent of their approved budget.

“There must be some mechanism to trigger that back to the oversight committees… where there is this overrun of more than 15 per cent, that really must be reported to the permanent secretaries. The Ministry of Finance should have somebody that collects that information, so that they know those projects that are in trouble – but information must be sent in a regular report to Parliament. It gives us (the PAAC) an opportunity to look through these programmes that are having overruns and indicate whether or not we determine the need to look into them if we don't get an appropriate explanation,” he explained.

Members also recommended that qualified management staff who are not known political appointees should not be dismissed from their jobs, except when there are calls during periods of change of Government. The committee says this will reduce allegations of unfair dismissal.

The committee is also of the view that boards of directors should also refrain from signing new contracts for management staff or offering contract extensions for more than one year during an election year, in order not unduly to constrain the will of a new Government.

The committee is also urging Government to install project management software and other mechanisms to monitor project implementation across all ministries, which are experiencing significant overruns, and that they should submit expenditure forms complete with justification.