Wed | Jun 19, 2024

TAJ boss faces PAC today over unused multimillion-dollar rentals

Published:Tuesday | May 28, 2024 | 12:09 AM
Ainsley Powell, commissioner general of the Tax Administration Jamaica.
Ainsley Powell, commissioner general of the Tax Administration Jamaica.
The seemingly still-unoccupied building in Annotto Bay, St Mary, which was rented by the Tax Administration Jamaica over three years ago. The photograph was taken in April 2024.
The seemingly still-unoccupied building in Annotto Bay, St Mary, which was rented by the Tax Administration Jamaica over three years ago. The photograph was taken in April 2024.
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Tax Administration Jamaica (TAJ) Commissioner General Ainsley Powell will appear before Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee (PAC) to field questions on the nearly $400 million spent by the agency for leasing two buildings that remained unoccupied for up to three years.

The PAC is also scheduled to review an auditor general’s report on the Financial Services Commission, as well as matters in the annual report pertaining to the Ministry of Finance and the Public Service.

In a Gleaner interview in March, Powell said that the TAJ had no plan to sanction any employee over the situation after hundreds of millions were spent for leasing the properties that were not used over an extended period.

The TAJ boss is expected to provide an update on whether the buildings leased by the tax agency are now being used to provide tax services to the public.

“The delay in occupancy is attributed to the lengthy procurement process and build-out required to make the space suitable for the delivery of tax services, which, in the instance of Mandeville, had to be restarted, and both are still ongoing,” Powell told The Gleaner.

The money spent by the TAJ to lease properties was highlighted in an auditor general’s report tabled in March. The report was blocked by House Speaker Juliet Holness for almost two months, over a dispute regarding the interpretation of laws surrounding the auditor general’s reports on public bodies.

The auditor general’s report stated that, up to August 2023, the TAJ spent $371.8 million to lease a property in Mandeville, Manchester, and another in Annotto Bay, St Mary, over a three-year period, and failed to occupy the buildings up to August 31, 2023.

When The Gleaner spoke with Powell in March, he said the TAJ had not made a decision on whether there would be an internal enquiry and sanction over the issue that generated public backlash.

However, he said, the TAJ was not happy about the issue.

He argued that the TAJ had been following the country’s procurement rules, one of which required a lease to be in place before any efforts to determine designs and then implement them.

“Once the lease is in place, then TAJ is liable to make payments,” the agency said in an earlier statement, which gave a chronology of the procurement processes associated with the two leases.

The TAJ leased the property in Greenvale, Mandeville, to bring together the tax services currently offered at two locations – South Race Course Road and Caledonia Road. The process started in April 2018 and the lease was signed in September 2020.

Some $357 million has been spent on the property over the past three years.

The Auditor General’s Department said the other locations are costing the government $51.2 million per annum.

editorial@gleanerjm.com