Auditor General, Pamela Monroe-Ellis, has accused the Tax Administration of Jamaica, TAJ, of spending more than $370 million on properties it had failed to occupy for nearly three years.

That’s one of the findings of an Auditor General report tabled in the House of Representatives on Tuesday.

The report also found that one property in question is owned by a company of which the member of parliament for the constituency is a director.

Shaloy Smikle tells us more.

The Special Audit was triggered after allegations that the TAJ was seeking a property to relocate its Tax Office in St. Mary.

The allegations are that the sitting member of parliament, through his private company, bought a commercial building within his constituency, a few meters across from the existing tax office.

This office was subsequently rented to TAJ for approximately $700,000 per month.

It is further alleged that at the time of the report in December 2023, the building was not yet occupied by the TAJ, although approximately eight months’ rent had been paid and to date renovation work was yet to commence.

The Auditor General in her report says the allegations were proven true. However, no evidence was presented that suggested the MP in any way influenced the TAJ’s decision to lease the property.

But, the probe revealed further alleged irregularities in the TAJ’s procurement of real estate.

On January 25, 2022, TAJ began leasing a property located on Main Street, Annotto Bay, St. Mary. As of August 31, 2023, it spent a total of fifteen million dollars on lease payments.

TAJ projected the retrofitting works would cost more than $56 million. But, up to the time of the report, there was no evidence the TAJ had relocated its operations to the property.

Once again the Auditor General stresses there was no evidence the TAJ’s decision to lease was externally influenced.

However, further checks by Mrs. Monroe Ellis say the TAJ did not receive written permission from the Commissioner of Lands before entering the lease agreement, nor did it engage the National Land Agency to conduct a valuation.

This is a requirement of the government’s asset management policy.

According to TAJ’s management team, this requirement was not adhered to in the interest of time as another entity was also interested in leasing the space.

In yet another instance the TAJ leased a building in Greenvale, Mandeville which it is yet to occupy. This is despite expending nearly $357 million as of August 31, 2023.

The Auditor General says despite the completion of the proposal for renovation and furnishing in June 2019, and the first lease payment in September 2020, the necessary renovation works had not yet commenced.

Mrs. Monroe-Ellis notes that up to August 31, 2023, the TAJ expended nearly $372 million for the properties it had yet to occupy.

The Auditor General says the TAJ’s standard operating procedures are not consistent with best practices of accountability and transparency and should be aligned with the relevant GOJ’s policies and regulations.