JAMAICA – Minister of Local Government and Sports Portia Simpson Miller said yesterday that she was awaiting the result of an investigation of operations at the National Solid Waste Management Authority before deciding whether changes at the state agency were necessary.
She was responding to questions from journalists as to whether the problems facing the NSWMA, including allegations of corruption, were enough to warrant the changing of personnel at the agency, according to the Jamaica Gleaner.
“When I get the report I will know what action if any will be taken,” Mrs. Simpson Miller said. “I will then know what to do.”
Mrs. Simpson Miller also dismissed suggestions that she had been slow to respond to concerns raised by the Auditor General’s department about irregularities at the NSWMA, saying she was the person to have requested the intervention of the contractor-general and the Internal Audit Department to look into the financial affairs of the agency.
“Those instructions were given way before anything started coming into the press,” Mrs. Simpson Miller said. “Its not that we just started. I wanted to look at the operations and the funding requirements of the NSWMA to ensure that it was efficient and effective and could deliver quality service to the people.”
Mrs. Simpson Miller who was the guest speaker at the St. Andrew Rotary Club luncheon at the Jamaica Pegasus Hotel in New Kingston said she was surprised at the sudden interest being shown towards her handling of the situation, saying she wasn’t the least bit perturbed as to whether it would affect her leadership aspirations.
“I don’t know why there is so much build up,” she said.
“And this Portia, Portia thing. I don’t know whether there are things in there that will create a problem … this I don’t know. I can only speak to the facts and until I see the report I cannot say what will happen.”
But while the Minister was giving her take as to the events unfolding at the NSWMA, questions were still being raised as to her handling of queries by the Auditor General regarding the lack of transparency at the agency.
“The Minister could spin as much as she likes but she still must answer as to why the Auditor General has not been able to receive a financial statement from the solid waste agency despite requesting it for the past two years,” one People’s National Party insider told The Gleaner last night.
“She must say whether there had been proper monitoring of the agency, including frequent board meetings. It is a question of what the Minister knows and when she knew it. Anything less than a candid statement from her would be a great disservice to the country, especially from someone who is aspiring for the highest office in the land.”
The Auditor General Department has accused the NSWMA of failing to turn over financial statements over the past two years, warning that the agency was in breach of the law. There are also reports that the agency is over $200 million in debt and that there was a recent purchase of five sports utility vehicles for employees without ministry approval.
And reacting to a suggestion from the Association of Local Governments (ALGA) that the government stop paying property tax revenue directly to the NSWMA, Mrs. Simpson Miller said: “If you are going to be returning anything to the local authority, (Government would have to examine) what you are returning and how they will be able to handle it. It is about people and the quality service that you offer to people for the past two years,”