(CMR) The Public Accounts Committee has recommended the removal of the Chairman of The Utility Regulation and Competition Office (OfReg) Board, Lindford Pierson.
An exclusive source has provided this information as an explanation for why the PAC's report has been refused by the Speaker of the House, McKeeva Bush recently.
In what appears to be an attempt to keep this information out of the public domain Bush indicated he had not had an opportunity to review the report and therefore would not allow it to be tabled.
In his statements about the refusal, Bush indicated that he needed to review the contents of the report. It remains unclear what Bush intends to do with the report since he has no legal authority to change its contents.
Public Account Committee members have indicated the report will be submitted again at the upcoming December hearing.
The PAC report would have been presented to the Business Committee which is chaired by the Premier and includes several other members of the legislative assembly. PAC also has six members including at least three from the government bench.
Pierson and others appeared before the PAC in mid-July to respond to a number of concerns highlighted by the Auditor General and her team in a June 2020 report entitled Efficiency and Effectiveness of the Utility Regulation and Competition Office (OfReg).
The 73-page report highlighted some serious concerns about the operations and inefficiencies of OfReg which Pierson was quick to dismiss during his testimony.
During the hearings, Pierson had to be forcibly removed from the Legislative Assembly as he refused to leave after his testimony.
It is against standing orders for a witness to remain in the LA during the testimony of others. The standing order is meant to protect witnesses from possible intimidation, allowing them to speak freely.
In an unusual move, part of his testimony was also struck from the LA records as he attacked the AG and her team claiming that their report was inaccurate. He made several unsubstantiated claims that contradicted the audit team’s findings.
By contrast, the Auditor General, Sue Winspear, supported her conclusions with documentary evidence.
Alee Fa'amoe was frank in his comments when he shared his opinion that the OfReg structure has “held us (ICTA) back”.
He shared at the PAC hearing that when his entity was separate and he was the ICTA director there were no limitations on how thorough he could be with reports at meetings. However, under this new structure, the board instructed ICTA “to keep our regulatory presentations and discussion to 15 minutes”.
By comparison, he would have previously done board presentations around five hours in length.
This comment appeared to have shocked PAC Chairman, Ezzard Miller who inquired as to the rationale to such a limit. Fa'amoe responded with:
“I don't know the rationale. It does not make sense to me that a regulatory board would handicap itself in such a way.”
In his shocking testimony, Fa'amoe shared that the board had been unable to hold its own CEO accountable. Simple manuals like a human resource manual had been outstanding for years with no indication when they would be forthcoming.
Without certain procedural and operational things in place, Fa'amoe stated that he was unable to adequately do his job managing the ICTA sector. He noted that they no longer have a regulatory lawyer for example.
Shortly after this testimony before the house, Fa'amoe resigned from OfReg.
The PAC Chairman, Ezzard Miller with backing from the Attorney General's Office has confirmed that Bush has no legal standing in the LA to refuse to table a report and is acting unlawfully.
The removal of a chairperson to any board has never been suggested by the PAC before. However, it appears that after the Auditor General's scathing report on OfReg and five days of testimony before the committee, Pierson's immediate removal is being recommended.
Another key area of concern that allegedly is in the report is the lack of accountability to anyone else.
On paper, the Cabinet Secretary should have regulatory oversight of OfReg. However, he does not sit on the board so in practical terms has little control over any wrongdoings that the board members may engage in. Legislative changes would need to be implemented to allow for greater control of OfReg.
CMR also understands that there are concerns about entities not having their licenses up to date or renewed for the current period because of non-payment of fees and other issues. In at least one case a major ICT provider does not have a current license in place because of OfReg reviews.
One source shared that the management (board members) do not appear to understand their role within the OfReg framework. Instead, they spend an exorbitant amount of time attempting to micro-manage OfReg from an operational perspective instead of from an oversight one.
Essentially, the directors do not have a good grasp of what it means to be directors acting in a non-executive role. It appears that they believe that they are the CEO or executive directors of the government regulatory entity.
Ironically, this concern was highlighted over two years ago when it was revealed that Pierson had engaged in threats of physical violence during a recorded board meeting. In that exclusive CMR article, it was further shared by sources that Pierson had expressed an interest in applying for the CEO position.
At that time Ezzard Miller had called for his resignation as Chairman of OfReg.
Any hopes for improvements of the entity's structure and operations have been lost as both the AG's report and questions during the PAC hearings demonstrated a number of leadership issues. A case in point was the lengthy and unnecessary vacancy of the CEO position at OfReg.
The operational shortcomings within OfReg have cost the country money and meant that systems that should have been implemented still are lacking. For example, the much-needed regulation of the fuel sector continues to be a pipe dream some two years after it was promised by OfReg.