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Sunday 26 May 2019
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Creating positions without approval, laptops for board

National Commission for Self-Help chairman Edgar Zephyrine responds to questions from the Public Accounts (Enterprises) Committee at the Parliament building yesterday.  With him is administrative head Janice Phillips.
National Commission for Self-Help chairman Edgar Zephyrine responds to questions from the Public Accounts (Enterprises) Committee at the Parliament building yesterday. With him is administrative head Janice Phillips.

THE NATIONAL Commission for Self-Help Ltd (NCSHL) was yesterday described as a dysfunctional “rogue entity” by the Public Accounts (Enterprises) Committee (PAEC), which grilled chairman Edgar Zephyrine on unauthorised appointments, the purchase of laptops without permission and failure to provide minutes to the relevant authorities.

“It appears from where we sit that this organisation has gone rogue. This is a rogue organisation and you are doing your own thing as chairman,” said PA(E)C chairman Wade Mark.

He said there had been a number of egregious breaches of the state-enterprise manual by the board, including purchasing laptops for board members without approval.

The PA(E)C met yesterday with officials of the Self-Help Commission and the Finance Ministry Investments Division at Tower D, Parliament building, Port of Spain.

Mark asked Zephyrine who was the effective head of the commission, and Zephyrine responded it was current administrative head Janice Phillips. She was appointed after the CEO was suspended on disciplinary grounds and sent on administrative leave around July 2017; the NCSHL was being sued in court for breach of contract over the decision. He reported that Phillips, formerly senior projects officer, was receiving $25,000 a month inclusive of allowances, while a CEO’s normal salary would be $41,000. He added the decision on Phillips’s appointment as administrative head and salary was made without any consultation of the permanent secretary or line minister.

Committee member Jennifer Baptiste-Primus said when a CEO was on leave the normal process was to have an acting CEO, and asked why this was not the case. Zephyrine responded it was the board’s decision not to have an acting CEO but an administrative head as an interim arrangement – a post that did not exist in the approved organisational structure.

“The board cannot whimsically create posts. You have to get approval for these things,” Mark said.

Zephyrine said the board acted in the belief that it could create the position, but Mark stressed it had to seek approval from the line minister and the Finance Ministry.

Baptiste said, from her more than 30 years in the public service, to create a position, an entity would have to go through the Public Management Consulting Division and through Cabinet.

“I am stunned at what I am hearing. No board has the authority to change or create positions.”

The board was also criticised for unauthorised positions of head of finance and grants co-ordinator.

PA(E)C member David Small said he was “incredulous” and described the appointment of an administrative head without approval as null and void.

“Something has gone terribly amiss.”

Zephyrine also reported the board had decided the head of finance would report directly to him, but Small said he was not an executive director and had no ability to have staff report to him.

“Things running away in the state-enterprise sector and we have to pull things back.”

Community Development Permanent Secretary Angela Edwards said the information about the appointment was brought to the ministry in 2017 and the ministry responded that Cabinet approval had to be sought, but received no further response from NCHSL.

“That makes it worse,” Baptiste-Primus commented.

Edwards also reported the NCSHL board had not provided the board with minutes when the decision to suspend the CEO was taken and so far has received only 50 per cent of the minutes required to be submitted by the board.

Mark said the board had engaged in another breach of the state-enterprise performance-monitoring manual by not submitting minutes regularly.

He also criticised the board for asking the corporate secretary to leave meetings at times.

He reported the PA(E)C will meet with the NCSHL board next Wednesday and will summon the corporate secretary, who was invited but absent, and the former CEO.

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