It makes no sense

An effort by St James Central Member of Parliament (MP) Heroy Clarke to rehash the findings of a 2012 auditor general report on the Canadian farm work programme was squashed at a meeting of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) yesterday.

Clarke has, over the past several sittings of the PAC, pressed Auditor General (AG) Pamela Monroe Ellis with questions pertaining to the programme, including asking her last week how she felt about nepotism.

The 2012 report made no mention of nepotism but highlighted that an individual had been engaged as liaison officer under the programme and was being remunerated at a higher level than it would have cost to employ a Canadian resident.

Yesterday, Clarke asked the auditor general whether it had not “struck a chord”, that an employee under the programme, bearing the same surname as former Labour Minister Derrick Kellier, was engaged weeks after the 2011 General Election.

The auditor general said she had raised concerns about an officer resident in Jamaica being taken to Canada to fill an administrative position, as these positions are usually filled by Jamaicans living in Canada or Canadians. She stressed that this had nothing to do with any possible link between a minister and the employee.

“There are so many things that strike a chord,” she told the committee. “There are so many things that I look at, and it’s quite curious, but if I have no evidence that can allow me to conclude, without the veracity of my conclusion being tested successfully, I will not conclude on the side of what public sentiment is saying. I conclude from a dispassionate position not because of how I feel. Probably if I report on how I feel, the country would turn upside down. I come from a dispassionate position and I take pride in that,” the auditor general responded.

She argued that she could only report on activities that run contrary to prescribed policies. “Everyone is entitled to apply for positions, there are no restrictions anywhere to say this individual is prohibited from applying.”

Monroe Ellis stressed that her report raised no query about a minister’s daughter. “I saw nothing in black and white that anybody is anybody’s daughter. I don’t report hearsay, I report what I see. I saw no evidence of any minister requesting that his or her daughter be employed,” she said.

Clarke said he accepted the answer but insisted that the permanent secretary (PS) in the Ministry of Labour should be brought before the committee to clarify the matter.

Juliet Holness, MP for St Andrew East Rural, advised against rehashing the report, pointing out that the findings should instead be used by sitting ministers as lessons to avoid “the mistakes of the past”. She said no minister should take it unto themselves to execute administrative functions.

“Even if something was wrong at the time we have to leave it at this stage because it had the benefit of the oversight of the auditor general. My expectation is that the AG would have been dispassionate, would have had no reason to not investigate the evidence and documentation. I do not think at this stage it would make sense to ask the PS to come back in, because I do not see us finding anything different from what has been previously stated,” she said.

Dr Morais Guy, MP for St Mary Central, told Clarke that perhaps the issue would be best served if brought to the attention of the integrity commission.

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