Saturday 17 November, 2018

Buchanan's resignation not the end of the matter - PNP

Former CEO of the Universal Service Fund, Camille Buchanan.

Former CEO of the Universal Service Fund, Camille Buchanan.

Last week’s resignation by Camille Buchanan as CEO of the Universal Service Fund (USF) has not prevented the Opposition People’s National Party (PNP) from calling for a full probe of the state-run agency.

Rather than settling the matter, the Opposition Spokesman on Science and Technology, Julian Robinson, said in a news release, that Buchanan’s resignation has merely paved the way for investigative bodies like the Auditor General and the Integrity Commission to move in and probe the entity.

According to Robinson, there is clear evidence of corruption, nepotism, cronyism, systematic breaches and procedural lapses at the USF where Buchanan was upbraided by the board for hiring her daughter at $80, 000 per month in a position for which she was not qualified.

Her daughter left the job before the matter was made public in June. Buchanan also appeared before parliament’s Public Administration and Appropriations Committee (PAAC) last month and it appeared she was a safe bet to continue in her job.

However, news emerged on the weekend that Buchanan was separated from her job as CEO at the USF. She is the seventh high profile person with links to former Science, Energy and Technology Minister Dr Andrew Wheatley, and spanning three state-run organisations, to resign in the wake of several scandals that have engulfed entities over which Wheatley previously had oversight responsibility.

Opposition Spokesman on Science and Technology, Julian Robinson.

Wheatley was himself a casualty of the scandals which have engulfed the country’s lone oil refinery Petrojam, National Energy Solutions Limited (NESoL) and now the USF. He resigned from the Cabinet nearly three weeks ago.

According to Robinson, it is time for a full investigation into the operations of the USF.

 “I am, therefore, urging the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry to invite the Auditor General and the Integrity Commission to conduct a full probe of USF,” he said.

He added that the resignation of Buchanan has opened the door to many questions regarding the role of key officials in the conduct of the agency's business and those questions can only be answered satisfactorily by an audit and detailed investigation.

For example, Robinson said the chairman of the USF Board, Robert Lawrence has not yet answered questions posed to him in a July media release by the PNP seeking to ascertain how many other persons have been hired at the agency over the last two years, in what capacity without the positions being advertised as required by the rules of the Services Commission, and whether permission was granted by, either the parent ministry or the Services Commission, to fill such positions.

According to the PNP, a media release from USF on July 16, over Lawrence’s signature, seems to suggest that there were other breaches, but according to him, they were excusable under the agency's policy for temporary employment. However, Robinson is adamant that there is no such accommodation for the blatant hiring of relatives in the way they were effected at the USF, which operates under Government's HR principles.

The PNP also said that accountability or the lack thereof and the deterioration in the administrative environment at agency cannot lie solely with Buchanan, and that the Board of Directors, led by Lawrence, is equally responsible; especially because the board chairman played an active role in the day-to-day operations of the organization.

Robinson said it is clear to him that the major decisions taken by the organization were done with the knowledge and authority of the board and the chairman.

From the inception of the USF in 2006, telecoms companies, namely FLOW and Digicel have always had representatives on the Board of Directors. However, when the new board was named, these representatives were excluded without reason, the release says.

The PNP is questioning whether the Chairman can provide the rationale behind their exclusion.

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