Gleaner Editorial | Shame at the Public Accounts Committee-May 21, 2021

This timely editorial came after a week when the integrity of the Auditor General was called into question by Parliamentarians, some of whom don’t appear to know Jamaica’s Constitution and the independence it gives to the Auditor General, for obvious good reasons.

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There is comfort in the fact that criminal libel is no longer an offence, that a sitting auditor general cannot be removed on a whim, and that Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) members who have been attempting to turn Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee (PAC) into a Star Chamber against Pamela Monroe Ellis are likely to be on frolics of their own, rather than being under central direction.

With respect to the latter point, we hold that conclusion on the presumption that Prime Minister Andrew Holness and his key advisers would not encourage, or be knowing or willing parties to, any effort to undermine the auditor general on spurious grounds. For while that may appear good for short-term politics, it is antithetical to the good governance to which the prime minister has declared himself committed.

The auditor general is the Government’s chief auditor – a post established by the Constitution. Her job is to ensure that the financial accounts of government ministries, departments and agencies are properly kept and taxpayers’ resources are accounted for. From time to time, the auditor general conducts special or performance audits of entities and projects, which sometimes unearth inefficiencies and probable corruption, which may not only result in criminal charges, but prove embarrassing to governments.

In recent times, the Mrs Monroe Ellis’ probes of the Petrojam oil refinery and the education ministry are cases in point. They discovered nepotism, cronyism and other apparent acts of corruption. They led to the resignation of one minister and fraud charges being brought against another. Other public officials are also before the courts. Boards of institutions were forced to resign en masse

NOT THE ONLY ONES

But this administration, and the party from which it is formed, are not the only ones to have been discomfited or embarrassed by the work of Jamaica’s auditors general, including Mrs Monroe Ellis, who has been in the job since 2008. For instance, an audit by Mrs Monroe Ellis of the Factories Corporation of Jamaica (FCJ), covering the tenuring of the former People’s National Party (PNP) administration, disclosed a range of problematic issues, the Cabinet’s approval of the sale of more than 11 and a half acres of land, valued at J$164 million, ostensibly to a community trust for J$10,000. 

Up to the time of the release of that report, shortly after the PNP left office in 2016, the trust was not registered, and its directors were three private individuals. “…We noted that the title did not include a restrictive caveat to prevent the unauthorised disposal of the property in whole or in part,” the auditor general said. “Consequently, we were unable to determine the terms and conditions governing the transfer.” 

Only months after that report came the auditor general’s revelations of a fat gratuity/golden handshake payout to a former boss of the Port Authority of Jamaica (PAJ), who was already entitled to three hefty pensions. Other managers were also awarded pensions outside the scope established by the finance ministry and without the ministry’s permission.

Apparently failing to appreciate the potential of their behaviour to weaken accountability, the JLP members of PAC seem to believe that they can best protect their party by undermining public confidence in Mrs Monroe Ellis, which, ultimately, is an attack on the office of the auditor general. In so doing, they scraped for purchase via an audit of her office, conducted, as is required by law, by the finance ministry’s internal auditor. 

In the normal scheme of things, the matters flagged by the finance ministry’s audit – some of which have been walked back – would be considered minor and noted for action. But they have become causes célèbres for the likes of first-time MPs Dwight Sibblies and Robert Miller, and second-termer Heroy Clarke, who has recently found a voice.

At a PAC hearing 10 days ago, they spent much of the time haranguing and niggling Mrs Monroe Ellis with the question of why she (with an office of a senior director, two deputy auditors general and two heads of sections of similar rank) was not at an exit interview more than a year ago with the finance ministry’s auditors. It turned out that she was scheduled for a meeting of the PAC (which was postponed at the last minute), so had delegated the task.

NIGGLING RESUMED

On Tuesday, the largely uninformed niggling resumed in seeming search for a “gotcha”. 

Mr Sibblies wanted to know why the auditor general’s whereabouts at the time of the meeting more than a year ago had made it into this newspaper before the information had made it to the committee. She could not answer, except to say that she had been asked by a reporter to confirm the date of the exit meeting. 

The Gleaner knew because having confirmed the date of the meeting, it checked with Parliament and the minutes of committee meetings on the day. Mr Sibblies made heavy weather of the matter.

Mr Miller insisted that Mrs Monroe Ellis name the journalist who contacted her. She declined. Mr Clarke harrumphed about Parliament being “the final” that “supersedes all courts”, so when MPs bring someone who is “employed to Parliament” for questioning “we expect to get the answer”. Others joined the charade. There was a question about the respective qualifications of the auditor general and the finance ministry’s internal auditor. She is a Fellow Member of the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants. He has a first degree in management.

Mr Clarke persistently questioned whether the auditor general had line responsibility to the Cabinet or to Parliament, and remained seemingly suspended between dissatisfaction and incomprehension when it was explained that the auditor general did not fall under a ministry, and has its own budget head. Nothing changed when Section 122 (3) of the Constitution was read to illustrate the basis of her independence. The section explains that in exercise of her functions the auditor general “shall not be subject to the direction or control of any other person or authority”. It was a depressing episode. But it underlined the foresight of the framers of Section 122 (3) and the security of tenure the Constitution provides to auditors general. They retire at 60, which gives Mrs Monroe Ellis 15 more years in the post, unless she resigns or does something that warrants impeachment. 

Further, in another time The Gleaner might have been hauled before the Parliament to answer to Mr Sibblies et al.

Memories are made of this-May 19, 2021

I’m not sure what prompted a wave of nostalgia, today, though I have a clear recollection that I was mulling “What if?” things about my life. The first thought that surfaced was to do with my sporting life. I left Jamaica as a 6 year old in 1961 and became a sprinter at school in London. I went on to win the county high schools championships in 100m in the early 1970s. London had a population of 6 million. I then thought about the fact that we have just had the national ‘Champs’ event, when high school athletes compete. Jamaica has a population now of about 3 million–much less back in the 1970s. So, my simple what if was about whether I could have been national schools champion.

I’ve had this thought, often. 🙂

Part of the reason for thinking about it was that I don’t have deep in me any of the common high school affiliations and rivalries that surface, especially, around sports events.

Also, in the UK, there’s no comparable big recognised rivalry between schools across any sports, except between some public (ie private) schools. Of course, in any locality, rivalries exist between schools for a range of reasons, but nothing to spark county-wide interest and certainly not national interest.

Was my life the lesser for maybe starring on the wrong stage? I’m not complaining.

Republicans realising the costs of the ‘big lie’?-May 18, 2021

I was genuinely shocked to see a news report that Lindsay Graham had said “I accept the results of the election”.

My naive take is that, despite the Republicans in Congress voting to get rid of Liz Cheney for essentially accepting the 2020 election results and committing to fight against the disinformation that’s behind constant criticism of the US electoral process and particularly the outcome in 2020, they may realize they’re shooting themselves in the foot.

Many Republican-controlled states are imposing voter suppression legislation. They badly want to win in 2022, but they’re making it hard for certain groups to vote, but are also dissuading their supporters from voting because they keep arguing that elections are “fraudulent”.

It may also be the dropping again of another penny: the constant hanging onto the coattails of Donald Trump resulted in the double death spiral outcome of losing the presidency and Senate control due to losing both Senate races in Georgia. The other guy is not a winning ticket. Just saying.

Alisson wonderland as Liverpool FC create history-May 17, 2021

Watching Liverpool matches live has become so stressful this season that I rarely do it. As the season draws to a close, they’re chasing a place in the top four of the Premier League and a Champions League spot. They’ve gotten back to winning ways and won most of their recent matches, 6 in 8. They got to a point where the fourth spot is in their control, with three games to play, after beating Manchester United away, last Thursday. Win all 3 and it’s job done.

The game away against West Bromwich Albion on Sunday was going to be tough, with Albion already relegated but a hard side to break down and pride at stake. They also stole a point at Anfield with a stoppage time winner.

I saw the score was 1-1 at 88 minutes and thought a point was better than none. I then checked a few minutes later to see Liverpool leading 2-1, with a goal by Alisson in the 90+4 minute! Alisson is the team’s Brazilian goalkeeper! 😳🤔

I turned on the TV to catch the final whistle and players hugging like crazy.

I stayed with the coverage as they replayed the winning goal. Never in my life have I seen this. Alisson came up for a corner and headed in like a seasoned centre forward.

The Brazilian commentary is amazing:

The English commentary is ecstatic:

All angles can be see from a Liverpool FC post:

https://fb.watch/5xwe-3ig1x/

The goal was historic, including first ever by a Liverpool goalkeeper:

The post-match interview was emotional; Alisson had lost his father several weeks ago:

The magic of the FA Cup: Leicester City bringing more fairy tales to life-May 16, 2021

I’m a closet fan of Leicester City. It began years ago, in the early 1960s, when they were a good English First Division club, that constantly developed great players. From then, into the 1990s, the club could be named amongst those who’d been home to some of England’s best players-Shilton, Weller, Worthington, Clarke, Lineker, Heskey and some from elsewhere in Britain, such as Neil Lennon. Many went on to other clubs for stunning fees.

Then, the team waned and struggled, financially, needing the saving savings of big investors, the most recent and important being the current Thai owners, namely Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha, the Thai businessman and billionaire, and the founder, owner and chairman of King Power Duty Free, from 2010 until his tragic death in a helicopter crash at the King Power Stadium. His legacy is carried on by his family. His commitment helped Leicester do the most improbable feat of winning the Premier League, in 2016, under Claudio Raineri. They did that after narrowly missing relegation, the previous season. They have since sold some of their key players from the title-winning season, some of whom have gone on to win the Premiership with their new clubs. They sacked a few managers and floundered a little, but solidified themselves as a top team in the past three seasons, managing to make their way into European competitions, under Brendan Rodgers since 2019, who’s showed his style and imagination with Chelsea, Liverpool and Celtic.

But, they also had the sad legacy of most times in an FA Cup Final and not won–4…until yesterday.

They brought the magic again, on a day when masses of fans were allowed into a football stadium for the first time during the pandemic–22,000, roaring as they should.

They won the cup with a wonder goal, too, by Belgian Youri Tielemans, and the match has been dubbed “The Tielemans final”. Watch it, and watch it again, and again:

A quick VAR check for handball by Perez in the build-up, and the 63rd minute goal was confirmed.

It was just what fans want to see, live. I was out of my seat. So, too, was Gary Lineker, now in his pundit role as presenter for BBC’s Match of the day.

It was also putting up two fingers to the aborted European Super League, with the displays of affection between Chairman, management and team…connected top to bottom:

Leicester also showed that spending big money for ‘big’ stars is not always the way to success, and bringing on lesser-known players and developing them in a solid youth/academy system is a great way to go. Ironically, two of Leicester’s developed stars were on the losing Chelsea team, and Ben Chilwell nearly spoiled the party twice, with a header saved by Schmeichel and then a goal in the 88th minute, ruled out by VAR.

In the mix, was another piece of Jamie Vardy history-making, as the only player to have played in every round of the FA Cup (14), and won the trophy:

So, there’s plenty to savour and plenty to talk about for years to come. But, for now, the focus is on a nice piece of silverware to mark another good season.

Unseemly political behaviour-Jamaican parliamentary style-May 15, 2021

What Senator Kamina Johnson-Smith stated in the Senate, yesterday, was not a complete shock. She named the former Senator, whom she had claimed several weeks ago had sent her threatening and sexually harassing e-mails, as A. J. Nicholson.

Her statement was in response to calls by another Senator, Lambert Brown, to name the person, who latched onto the response like a dog with a squeaky toy:

Lots to unpack in this whole episode, including the good old ‘victim blaming’ and ‘just a joke’ reactions that Jamaicans often trot out in matters of sexual harassment.

All I’ll add is that Senator Nicholson will remain in infamy based on his previous quip about “flexi-rape”, notwithstanding any later apology:

Unseemly political behaviour, USA Congressional style-May 14, 2021

The USA has had most eyes on it for a series of running examples of distasteful behaviour by elected politicians. The most notable has been the harassment by a Republican politician, Marjorie Taylor Greene (MTG) of a Democrat opponent, Alexandria Ocasia-Cortez (AOC):

A since deleted video has been circulating of a piece of verbal harassment in Congress that defies explanation:

Jamaica, COVID trends and vaccination update-May 13, 2021

Health and wellness minister’s ‘COVID conversation’, this evening, focused on the vaccinations push, whose push has stalled pending more supplies.

He reported that 146,000 have gotten their first doses:

Over 50s can now get their vaccine doses:

Second doses are being administered, but supplies available are still not adequate, but another 60,000 doses are due to arrive in coming weeks.

The rebroadcast of the ‘conversation’ and the overall picture of COVID infection are in the thread below:

That’s the sound of the Cheney gang-May 12, 2021

Followers of US politics should be well aware that a massive fight is going on in the Republican Party in Congress. Simply put, its congressional caucus chair, 3rd in the hierarchy, Rep. Liz Cheney (Wyoming) has stood staunchly on the side that is fighting against the ‘big lie’ perpetrated by former president Trump, while significant parts of the leadership, namely, House minority leader, Kevin McCarthy (California), have shifted their positions from criticising Trump to vagueness and now to clear support for his ‘position’. The likely outcome of that is that Cheney will find herself voted out of her position this week. But, she’s not going down without a fight and without being on the right side of history. Her speech on the House floor last night made that absolutely clear-“We must speak the truth.”