A special internal audit report into increased personal allowances that Deputy Governor Lyndell Simpson approved for herself in 2021 recommends that the funds totalling more than XCD 60,000 be refunded.
On Thursday morning, Opposition Leader Paul Lewis, who also heads the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) led an inquiry into the Office of the Deputy Governor (ODG) to review its operations and finances over the past three years.
The PAC is a standing committee of the legislative assembly, charged with monitoring and scrutinising all public accounts.
Other members of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) are Member of the Legislative Assembly, Opposition Member Claude Hogan and Parliamentary Secretary Veronica Dorsett-Hector. Hogan and other members of the legislative assembly joined the session via Zoom.
The inquiry was aired live on the national radio station ZJB and streamed via Live Islands.
The more than three-hour session scrutinised the office’s functioning and questioned members of staff via live Q&A and through submitted answers about the office’s operations.
Human Resources Unit
The question of who oversees the government’s human resources department was left unanswered as the role is being handled “remotely” by the Deputy Financial Secretary Phillip Chambers who is currently operating from the Deputy Governor’s Office.
The PAC head said that the report noted that across the public sector there was widespread dissatisfaction in the length of time ODG took to fill vacant roles. The report noted that the average time had been reduced from 120 days to 63 days.
Significant staffing gaps with the ODG were noted.
No answers were given by the DG on several matters related to significant staffing gaps and how services are being delivered.
Hogan noted that he has been serving on the PAC at three different intervals since 2001 and has never encountered a situation where no answers are forthcoming from a senior official. He asked the chair to impress upon the officials that they missed an opportunity to clarify how the office is serving the people of Montserrat.
The inquiry also discussed the 20 vacant technical consultants (TC) and the consequences of them remaining unfilled.
MLA Hogan said beyond the upskilling that TCs are to offer the public service, unfilled TC posts have a negative economic impact on Montserrat as they are a modern replacement of the island’s old extended stay visitor sector.
The other PAC members lamented several times throughout the proceedings that answers were unavailable and no one from ODG was present to answer.
However, Section 63(3) of the Constitution Order only public servants with Ministers are obliged to appear before the PAC. As ODG does not fall under a government minister, the DG is not obliged to answer to PAC.
Government Facilities Management
ODG also has responsibility for government facilities. Presenting a report to the PAC was the Director of Public Works Rawlson Patterson who spoke of the backlog in the maintenance and upkeep of government buildings.
Patterson said a 2018 report on the state of government buildings noted that there was a need for significant and major repairs to education buildings, including structural retrofitting and repairs to roofs, bathrooms, painting, and refurbishment of classrooms.
The Registry, Court, and the Montserrat Cultural Centre all need urgent major repairs for leaks, roofs, hurricane shutters, and bathrooms.
Health facilities needed some repairs. While there was little to no structural deterioration the centres needed routine maintenance.
National security facilities such as the fire stations and prison needed work. The prison needs a new perimeter fence and ramps, the director of public works explained.
When asked by PAC Member Dorsette-Hector, to give a top 10 list of the priority buildings, Patterson shared the following:
- MSS – structural retrofit, roof repairs, stairs, drainage, bathroom repairs
- Brades Nursery School – roof repairs
- Brades Primary School – roof and drainage
- Salem Primary School – roof, flooring, bathroom, windows, kitchen, painting, and total refurbishment
- Montserrat Community College – classroom repairs
- Cudjoe Head Health Centre – internal repairs and roof
- Salem Health Centre – internal repairs
- St. Johns Health Centre- internal and drainage
- St. Johns – Oriole Villas for the mentally challenged – internal repairs, roof, and drainage
- Court & Registry – water infiltration, roof repairs
Patterson said the Montserrat Culture Centre was also in dire need of refurbishment as well.
The 2018 estimated cost of the repairs was XCD 9.6 million. With current inflation and the increased cost of materials over the last few months, the director placed the new estimate at XCD 15 million.
He said health and safety issues may arise if the repairs and upgrades to the facilities are not handled in short order.
Lewis shared that according to the audited reports, ODG’s budget allocations exceed XCD 30 million annually with a total expenditure over the last three years exceeding XCD 90 million dollars.
Deputy Governor’s Personal Allowances
The final hour of the inquiry was spent on the matter of Deputy Governor Lyndell Simpson approving personal allowances for herself on two occasions.
The issue had been turned over to Attorney Andrew Horton to investigate when former governor Andrew Pearce demitted office earlier this year. The former governor said he had been unaware when signing off on a new contract for the DG that she had given herself increased allowances.
“The PAC believes that the DG has acted in breach of customary law in Montserrat. The DG’s answers are laced with attacks on the legislature, and the DG failed to conform to natural justice at all times when she overruled the Public Service Commission,” Lewis stated. “The DG failed to be accountable for public funds over which she is not an accounting officer and should have nothing to do with public funds.”
Lewis referenced an internal audit report completed in June 2021, entitled “Special Report Unauthorised Remuneration.” It stated that the remunerations that the deputy governor approved for herself “were unlawful and should be refunded” and they had not been approved or recommended through the proper channels (Central Allowances Committee).
The internal audit report noted in its findings and recommendations that “The increase in allowances totalling XCD 62,496.65 as at May 2021, to the Deputy Governor was made without following the established approval process. For adjustments to the DG allowances required according to the precedents, submission to the Central Allowances Committee with onward submission to Cabinet for approval. Without this process, the increases are not authorised. If the breach is not addressed immediately with a reasonable response this may cause significant issues for the morale and culture of the organisation.
“Management needs to take a decision immediately to address the Legislature Act or make the necessary adjustments to the base pay program framework to guide the remuneration of Senior Management so that it reflects the appropriate compensations.
“This breach of procedure/management override occurred twice and has integrity and ethical value implications, thereby requiring an independent body to review and provide recommendations for going forward.
“Public money paid without proper authority should be repaid to the Consolidated Fund. In response to the breach of procedure the Public Finance (Management and Accountability) Act Section 10 outlines how these matters are to be addressed.”
In his closing remarks, Lewis said that many questions were left to be answered and that the inquiry was not over. He said a decision will be formulated once more clarity is received on the outstanding matters.
He and his colleagues the lamented the lack of transparency, accountability and good governance practiced by a senior member of the government.
Lewis said these choices have affected the morale of the Montserrat public service, which is at an all-time low. “This is where the status of the service has reached,” he added.
The implications for other senior servants who were granted allowances which did not go through the allowances committee are unclear.
There has been no update from the Governor’s Office on the findings of Mr. Horton in the matter of the DG granting herself increased allowances.
The PAC’s findings will be submitted to the Legislative Assembly where it will be debated, and a decision taken on the recommendations.