This week, some startling news emerged regarding activities at the Port Authority of Jamaica, a major Government agency. An Auditor General’s (AG) report tabled in Parliament on July 25 revealed millions of dollars in bonus over-payments to senior employees at the Authority and multiple pensions to the same individuals. The employment contracts for 14 senior officers provided for the payment of a retirement benefit, at the discretion of the Board – which was not approved by the Finance Ministry.In particular, one of the 14 senior officers was found to have benefitted from three pensions: one valued at $120,000, the second at $52 million and the third at US$554,000. The board is chaired by Professor the Hon. Gordon Shirley, O.J., who is President and CEO of the Authority. It seems that any examination of the AG’s report will have to wait until the Parliamentary summer recess ends (which I believe will be at the end of August) – according to former Finance Minister Peter Phillips, who chairs the Public Administration and Appropriations Committee of Parliament.
Looking at the Authority’s 2013-14 Annual Report, I note the following paragraph relating to the Board of Directors:
The Board is dedicated to the delivery of high governance standards in order to ensure regulatory compliance, enhanced stakeholder value, corporate social responsibility and sustained business growth. It also promotes a culture of integrity, transparency and accountability while protecting the interests of employees, customers and the wider community.
The 51% Coalition issued this press release today (July 29, 2016):
The news of the failure of the Board of Directors of the Port Authority of Jamaica to safeguard the interests of the people of Jamaica in a judicious manner has come as a shock to the nation. Its composition by noted private sector leaders, some active in the financial sector, and other accomplished citizens, would lead many to assume that a high level of oversight with competence and integrity would have been the norm for all operations and for decision-making.
To the contrary, the report of unauthorised approval and payment of millions of dollars of taxpayers’ money to functionaries of the Port Authority of Jamaica is callous and careless. This occurs in a context which finds many Jamaicans, including the unemployed and the working poor and primarily females, burdened by economic pressures.
The 51% Coalition- Women in Partnership for Empowerment- is strongly of the view that this pattern of poor governance thrives in conditions in which the base of decision-making is concentrated within a narrow band of power holders. This is a band of mainly males, connected by economic and social ties, perennially called to duty by political leaders regardless the of party in power; a band which overwhelmingly excludes females and other citizens, who are capable and willing, but who may not be as socially and economically connected.
The result of recent research by the 51% Coalition from a sample of 130 newly appointed public Boards and Commissions, shows that this system continues to thrive despite its evident undermining of women’s human rights and the dangers to development. The research shows that males constitute 65% of the appointees and females 35%. Eighty three percent (83%) of the Board Chairpersons are males, 17% females; 42% of these recently appointed boards have less than 30% female membership and twelve boards (9%) have no female appointees at all.
In the case of the Port Authority of Jamaica , according to the annual report for 2014-2015, the Board of Directors of 80% male and 20% female, oversaw revenues for the group in excess of $19 billion dollars and surplus of some $1.2 billion dollars for the year.
As impressive as this performance seems, it pales in comparison to the blatant disregard of the legally enacted measures that led to the granting of unauthorised emoluments and other questionable transactions. It smacks of self-interest trumping national interest .
This type of governance is not consistent with national efforts to achieve growth with equity. The 51% Coalition therefore supports the call of the Auditor General that the unauthorised payments be returned and administrative action be taken against those who approved the payments. We also propose that within the context of the Prime Minister’s most recent restatement of his commitment to gender equity and his enrolment as a HeforShe campaigner, that the opportunity be taken to:
- Appoint a Port Authority of Jamaica board that reflects a 50/50 male/ female gender balance;
- Separate the position of President and Chief Executive Officer being held by the same person;
- Ensure that all members of the new Board undertake mandatory training in corporate governance;
- That not only Board members, but the Minister responsible, be held accountable for breaches of procedures that are made;
- That the process taking place in the Ministry of Finance towards transparency in the appointment of Boards, be accelerated to ensure that parity, diversity and greater levels of accountability are manifested in Boards at all levels.
Critically, we urge females on or selected to boards to use the weight of our diverse experiences in our families and communities to make our voices heard and our actions count to balance our democracy.
Signed by the following members and member organizations of the 51% Coalition:
Women’s Resource and Outreach Centre
Dr. Marcia Forbes
Jean Lowrie Chin
Indi McLymont Lafayette