May 11, 2021

The Editor Speaks: Community affairs

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One can only wonder why the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) earlier this month was denied copies of a $180,000 KPMG outline business case on reforming the social services programme.

Bodden Town MLA Chris Saunders had said, before he walked out of PAC meeting saying it was a waste of time, he had received privately a copy of the KPMG outline business case and it did not provide any clear direction.

Saunders was not allowed to say anymore about it as MLA Austin Harris, on behalf of the government, objected saying it was not a public document.

Following on from that, chief officer in the Community Affairs Ministry Dorine McGee (nee Whittaker) took early retirement and has been replaced byTeresa Echenique. Echenique is currently the director of the Department of Community Rehabilitation (DCR), but she will now act as chief officer until the end of the year.

Announcing her appointment, Deputy Governor Franz Manderson said details of how and when the post will be permanently filled will be revealed in November.

After reading Echenique’s credentials she seems well qualified for a job her predecessor, McGee, seemed to be out of her depth.

The Auditor General in 2015 had put forward recommendations in a report “Government Supporting Those in Need“. None of which seems to have been acted upon.

The Auditor General had said she had met with KPMG and “We did at the outset express concerns around the terms of reference [they KPMG] were going to undertake,” she said. “Our first recommendation in the 2015 audit report was about developing a strategy around the social assistance programmes. So by that, we are not talking about how government organises itself and its back office to deliver services, we are talking about what is the policy you are trying to achieve for older people, for unemployed people, for disabled people. We saw the first step, before getting into consideration of what are the options, as the development of a strategy or policy position.”

McGee gave often confusing and at times incomprehensible answers to questions asked at her by PAC chairman Ezzard Miller and it is no surprise she has been retired.

With government spending $180,000 for secretarial services for a report that still has not been made public and a pressing need for the Community Affairs Department to go in a different direction, the appointment of Echenique seems to be a step forward.

We are dealing with peoples lives, their welfare, children and the elderly and community affairs will almost certainly affect all of us at some time in our lives.

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