Mon | Dec 11, 2023

Financial secretary mum on recommended surcharge action against Bernard, McLean

Published:Tuesday | March 21, 2023 | 1:09 AM
Financial Secretary Darlene Morrison.
Financial Secretary Darlene Morrison.

Financial Secretary Darlene Morrison has gone silent on queries as to whether the Ministry of Finance and the Public Service has acted on recommendations by the auditor general to institute surcharge action against in-limbo Permanent Secretary Dean-Roy Bernard and former Acting Permanent Secretary Dr Grace McLean.

More than a year ago, Morrison contradicted comments by Education Minister Fayval Williams that Bernard and McLean had been surcharged after it was revealed that the ministry was unable to account for $124 million of taxpayers’ money paid to the then Dr Cecil Cornwall-chaired Joint Committee on Tertiary Education (JCTE) over a 32-month period.

In January 2022, the finance ministry stated that it was in the process of gathering and reviewing information to evaluate the recommendation made by the Pamela Monroe Ellis-led Auditor General’s Department (AuGD).

“At this time, no surcharge has been issued,” the finance ministry said more than a year ago.

Fast-forward to March 2023 and despite repeated queries by email, Morrison is yet to provide an update on the process.

In early January this year, The Gleaner posed questions to Morrison as to whether she had instituted surcharge action against McLean and Bernard. If no surcharge was imposed, Morrison was asked to indicate why. To date, The Gleaner has not received a response.

At the same time, McLean’s attorney, Peter Champagnie, KC, told The Gleaner recently that he wrote a letter to the financial secretary regarding the surcharge issue against his client and is yet to receive a response from the finance ministry.

The auditor general made the recommendation in her report to Parliament on the allegation that both senior officials at the education ministry had failed in their fiduciary duties.

In her 2020-2021 annual report, the AuGD said that financial losses arose from the lack of governance over the JCTE.

The audit finding indicated that the Ministry of Education made payments amounting to $124,076,382.30 to an entity that does not have legal status, adding that “the purpose and use of the funds are unknown”.

The financial secretary, in accordance with the provisions of Section 20 of the Financial Administration and Audit Act, has the authority to impose a surcharge on any accountable officer in respect of a failure to collect revenue; making “improper payments”; deficiency or loss of public money; and/or loss or destruction of government assets.

Surcharge allows for the recovery of money lost or the value of the loss of property or other assets that have been destroyed or stolen because of negligence on the part of public officers. It allows for the recovery of the amount or value from the person found to be negligent.