Sunday 27 September, 2020

Pressure mounts on Gov't to table AG's Special Report on CMU

Professor Fritz Pinnock

Professor Fritz Pinnock

Pressure is mounting on the Government to table the Auditor General’s Special Audit Report on the Caribbean Maritime University (CMU).

Among those calling for the document to be tabled in the parliament as a matter of urgency are the Opposition People’s National Party (PNP) and corruption watchdog, National Integrity Action (NIA).

The CMU has found itself at the centre of the scandal that brought down former Minister of Education, Ruel Reid. Both Reid and President of the CMU, Professor Fritz Pinnock have been slapped with multiple corruption and fraud-related charges for allegedly being part in a scheme which investigators said involves some $56 million.

Reid’s wife Sharen, daughter Sharrelle and Kim Brown-Lawrence, the Jamaica Labour Party councillor for the Brown’s Town division of the St Ann Municipal Corporation, have also been charged. All five are scheduled to return to court later this month.

The AG conducted a months-long probe into the CMU, however, while nearly two dozen documents including annual reports were tabled, when parliament resumed sittings on Tuesday after the Christmas break, the CMU report was not among them.

The PNP is urging the Speaker of the House of Representatives Pearnel Charles, to table the report forthwith.

“The failure to table the Auditor General’s Special Report on the CMU is a disturbing development and signals the continuation of the administration’s effort to cover up the corrupt practices within the government in general and at the institution in particular,” said the PNP in a statement issued Thursday.

The statement noted that the CMU report, which was completed by the Auditor General at the end of 2019, examined financial and administrative practices at CMU which resulted in the arrest of the five persons, including Reid.

“While a number of other documents were tabled at the first sitting of the House after the Christmas break on Tuesday, the CMU Audit Report was conspicuously absent from among the menu of reports revealed to the parliament,” the statement from PNP General Secretary Julian Robinson pointed out.

“A ‘hot microphone’ at the sitting leaked the voice of the Speaker telling the Leader of the House (Karl Samuda) he would not lay the report today (Tuesday),” Robinson said.

According to the PNP, the Speaker of the House is duty bound under the Jamaican constitution to cause the tabling of this report.

“He has no authority to delay or prevent the tabling of such reports to the Parliament,” said Robinson.

The PNP has argued that the legislature is obligated to uphold the laws of the land and that this delay in tabling the CMU report is unacceptable and only adds to the view that there is a cover-up.

It is urging Charles to immediately address the matter by tabling the report and providing an explanation of his action to the Jamaican people.

For its part, NIA in a statement, said it “agrees with the considered opinion of constitutional expert, Dr Lloyd Barnett, as with other distinguished counsel who we have consulted that there is nothing in the section [122 sub-section 2 of Jamaica’s Constitution] which provides for any discretion as to whether the Speaker can put, or not put on hold, or hold-up the laying of an Auditor General’s Report properly submitted for tabling in the House of Representatives”. 

“Moreover, after careful scrutiny, we are unable to find any precedent, under successive JLP or PNP administrations, where a House Speaker delayed, on his own discretion the tabling of an Auditor General’s Report,” NIA added.

It warned that such an action, were it to be accepted, would create a dangerous precedent which any future administration could use to undermine the responsibility of Parliament to provide effective oversight in the use of public funds.

NIA said the delay runs counter to the most recent advice of the International Monetary Fund, namely, “better monitoring of public funds would improve long standing gaps in transparency and accountability”.

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