Public Accounts Committee calls for OfReg chairman to be removed

The Public Accounts Committee hearing on the auditor general’s report ‘Efficiency and Effectiveness of the Utility Regulation and Competition Office (OfReg) – June 2020’ on 15 July.

The Public Accounts Committee has recommended that the chairman of utility regulator OfReg, Linford Pierson, should be replaced.

In a report based on hearings it conducted in July, the committee said it “has serious concerns about evidence given by the chairman of the OfReg board, and it is of the opinion that the organisation is unlikely to make the progress that needs to be made with the current chair in post.”

In its recommendations, the committee said, “The PAC strongly believes that the government should consider finding a new chair of OfReg’s board as soon as possible.”

The committee also concluded that OfReg’s board had been too involved in operational decisions and that more clarification was needed on the roles of non-executive directors, including the chair, and executive directors.

The regulator should amend its operating procedures to delegate, where appropriate, decisions to the chief executive officer and executive directors.

The PAC recommendations are not binding but government must respond to the report.

The PAC report and hearings were prompted by the auditor general’s report ‘Efficiency and Effectiveness of the Utility Regulation and Competition Office (OfReg) – June 2020’, which found that the regulator’s first three years of operation had been plagued by a lack of strategic planning, little oversight and inconsistent leadership, including a lack of succession plans.

During the committee’s hearings in July, Pierson had criticized how the auditor general’s audit for the report had been conducted, claiming that he had not been interviewed in his capacity as chairman.

Pierson said if the Auditor General’s Office had communicated with his team, it would have been provided with the succession plan. However, he said, the office was not looking for “factual” information.

In addition, the three-year audit had commenced before the regulator’s first three years of operation were complete, the OfReg chairman said.

Pierson also claimed there had been no delay in the implementation of government policies.

When asked to double-check that Pierson had been consulted, Auditor General Sue Winspear produced evidence, including interview notes, confirming that the team had met with Pierson on 13 Nov. 2019 for two-and-a-half hours.

It was further submitted that the audit team, including Winspear, also met with the entire OfReg board, including Chairman Pierson, on 12 Dec. 2019.

In the July 2020 hearings, the auditor general said that, during the audit, no document or board minutes were found indicating that a formal succession plan was accepted. The only plan her team had seen was an undated document sent to the PAC one week before the hearing.

On Monday 7 Dec., Speaker of the House McKeeva Bush defended delaying the tabling of PAC report at the previous meeting of the House.

Bush said the PAC report had only been disclosed to him the previous morning and he had to verify the contents, because he had received “a complaint from a witness whose evidence was not recorded in the minutes, yet his character was being smeared by the accusation that he was lying to the committee.”

He said the “unsubstantiated allegations” could cause “potentially irrefutable damage to the otherwise exemplary character” of Pierson.

Bush further criticised that Pierson had not been informed of the allegations against him and had not been given the right to respond.

But the speaker said he would allow the tabling of the report with his statement attached to it.

Presenting the PAC report in Parliament on Thursday, 10 Dec., committee chairman Ezzard Miller said, faced with the evidence presented by the auditor general, the committee voted at the time to redact Pierson’s statement and strike it from the record.

However, that decision was later reversed and the committee decided “that the preferred course of action was to leave it all in the report and [to] let the public decide on the evidence”, Miller said.

“No transcripts were redacted. Nothing was struck from the record. What Dr. Pearson said on the 15th of July that was inaccurate is there for all to see,” Miller said.

“What we have put in the report are facts, not opinions, not accusations, not allegations.”

In addition, he said, the performance audit was signed off by the OfReg board itself, confirming that the auditor general’s report was based on facts.

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