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Gov't response to Port Authority scandal delayed - 'Hypocritical' civil society criticised

Published:Wednesday | August 17, 2016 | 12:00 AMJovan Johnson
Dr Horace Chang
Kevin O'Brien Chang

The Andrew Holness-administration says it cannot give a timeline for its response to the multi-million-dollar gratuity and pension scandal uncovered at the Port Authority of Jamaica (PAJ).

At the same time, civil society is facing criticism for its 'silence'.

Auditor General Pamela Monroe Ellis revealed in a report last month that an unnamed former senior executive at the authority walked away with gratuity and pensions amounting to approximately J$146 million, in breach of government guidelines.

The report, released on July 26, also found that 14 top managers - over the period 2010-11 and 2014-15 - were overpaid J$15 million in gratuities.

On July 27, Information Minister Ruel Reid told journalists during a press briefing that the portfolio minister responsible for the PAJ would respond to the matter.

The PAJ falls under the Ministry of Economic Growth and Job Creation, headed by Prime Minister Andrew Holness.

Three weeks later, there has been no response and Dr Horace Chang, one of the ministers without portfolio responsibility in the growth ministry, said the response is taking time because of "legal implications". "This has some legal implications so you don't want to go running all over the place with it until you have set the thing properly," Chang told The Gleaner.

Pressed on when a response should be expected, he said: "I wouldn't want to anticipate that right now. Discussions are proceeding. It wouldn't be a long way. Yes, it's a further wait but it won't be a long wait."

Chang did not disclose the "legal implications".

Meanwhile, he said the administration's response should not be compared with the demands made by his Jamaica Labour Party while in opposition last year regarding the Outameni scandal and its handling by the previous People's National Party administration.

"They (Outameni and PAJ) are different things. Remember, the auditor general is a legal institution. Outameni is a straight balance of operation which you had to deal with up front. The prime minister will speak on it at the appropriate time. It's urgent news but it's not something you just rush into," he argued.

Noting that civil society advocates have been "quiet" on the issue, political analyst Kevin O'Brien Chang said the silence was highlighting the inconsistency in the advocates and organisations.

"I've always found it (civil society) very inconsistent; you have to wonder. Sometimes they make a lot of noise about certain issues and sometimes they don't, and the public loses confidence in them when they don't see consistency. The PAJ scandal went across both administrations and a cynic would say it's a grand conspiracy," Chang said.

"A lot of old boys and old girls are involved who are friends so they don't want to embarrass anybody that they know."

The Port Authority has not formally commented on the report.

The Opposition People's National Party has said little too, but Dr Peter Phillips, chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, has said the issue will be examined by the parliamentary oversight committee, along with others, when lawmakers return from the summer recess.