The sudden firing of Ruel Reid as Minister of Education, Youth and Information plus his immediate resignation from the Senate has shocked Jamaicans.
The reasons given for such dramatic action by Prime Minister Andrew Holness is still to be fully explained but the alleged corruption/misappropriation of funds/nepotism seems to centre around the “Caribbean Maritime University (CMU), National Education Trust (NET) and the HEART Trust/NTA”.
Given the upcoming heated by-election in East Portland and public statements regarding the scandal given last Monday by Opposition Leader Peter Phillips, Holness had no choice but fire to Reid swiftly before heading to Florida to see Donald Trump.
Reid’s background as a former Principal of 2 of Jamaica’s most respected high schools – Jamaica College and Munro College, plus his senior ranking within the church – shows a fall from grace that is embarrassing for him, his family, the government and all Jamaicans.
For Holness to take such action against someone as influential as Reid tells you how significantly damaging are the allegations. Reid and Holness are very close allies. In his resignation statement Reid stressed that he was innocent of any wrong doing and expects to be exonerated following any investigation. Reid’s attorney, Carolyn Chuck is defending her client’s innocence strongly.
In the Senate on Friday, opposition Senator Lambert Brown let lose a barrage of questions and condemned Reid’s tenure as a member of the Senate. Brown highlighted moments when Reid was economical with the truth in some of his answers in the Senate.
One thing we learnt during the immediate Ruel Reid fallout, was that the name Othneil Lawrence had appeared on documents – seen by the Gleaner – as an advisor to Professor Fritz Pinnock, head of CMU.
Why is this startling? Well, Lawrence was the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) caretaker candidate for North West St Ann. In 2017, Reid had announced his intentions to be the JLP caretaker candidate for that same constituency. But at the time Lawrence remained steadfast that he was indeed the chosen one.
Then by early 2018 Reid was confirmed as the JLP’s candidate for the seat. Lawrence went silent and walked away. Now we learnt from the Gleaner this week that Lawrence (as at 1st April 2018) was an advisor at CMU, a department that sat under Reid’s management. Or was this advisor Othneil Lawrence just A.N.Other?
The wheels were gradually falling off the Reid’s stewardship of his portfolios, yet his dramatic firing is still stunning. His reputation was taking a hit in the media and online over certain actions and statements that were deemed dictatorial and snowflakey.
Code of Conduct
Reid had been pushing hard to bring in a code of conduct to prevent the teaching profession from publicly criticising his policies. Reid also went after certain school principals who were planning to run for public office on behalf of the opposition People’s National Party (PNP). He demanded that the independent political ombudsman investigate his opponents’ intentions.
Such scare tactics – against the teaching profession – made Reid a laughing stock and a hypocrite given that when the JLP were in opposition he – while at Jamaica College – was an adviser on education to Holness.
But what also came to light during code-of- conduct standoff was that – Senator/Minister/JLP candidate/Church Elder – Ruel Reid is still on secondment from Jamaica College! Also he was still in living at the official school residence for principals.
What did the JLP Leadership Know?
If the Othneil Lawrence adviser allegations are true (we have to stress that), then when was Horace Chang (JLP General Secretary ) first aware that he was working at CMU? As the JLP’s General Secretary one of Chang’s roles – for due diligence – would be to keep tabs on where senior party members and former candidates are currently employed.
You would also think that Holness would want to know of Lawrence’s whereabouts given how the latter had been a consistent thorn in his leadership. In 2014, Lawrence did file a lawsuit (later withdrawn) against Holness to block JLP attempts to remove him as the caretaker candidate for the said St Ann constituency. Again I ask who was the Othniel Lawrence on the payroll at CMU?
What did the media know?
Was Archibald Gordon aware of the brewing events at CMU?
Gordon is a respected journalist who reads the evening news at TVJ each weekday evening. But Gordon’s day time job since November 2017 is Director of Marketing, Communications and Public Relations at CMU. It was ironic that Gordon has been a no show for TVJ news since the story of Lawrence’s alleged CMU role broke.
If Gordon knew of Lawrence’s appointment did he question such a controversial appointment with his boss Professor Fritz Pinnock?
If Gordon was not aware of Lawrence’s position at CMU then questions must be asked of Professor Fritz Pinnock and that of the Board of Directors. Pinnock is currently said to be overseas but they have been calls for his resignation.
Again when did the media know of Othneil Lawrence’s appointment at CMU?
Sharon Hay-Webster, Marlon Morgan and Garfield Higgins are strongly affiliated to the JLP. All 3 are senior advisors in Ruel Reid’s education department. Whilst there working for Reid, all 3 advisors had shows on News Talk radio until early 2018. Higgins still has a Sunday column in the Jamaica Observer where -I kid you not – each week he bashes the PNP and in particular Peter Phillips. So given that all 3 are based at Reid’s former department did they know of Lawrence’s impending appointment at CMU?
(It does sound from his column yesterday that Garfield Higgins is no longer an adviser at the education ministry.)
I have always had concerns when media staff hold other paid roles in the public/private sector. Especially when full disclosure is not explained to the public when carrying out their journalistic functions. The perception for any conflict of interest is never too far away.
It is worth noting that some in the further education sector were miffed at the speed by which CMU had attained University status back in early 2017.
Public Boards, Committees, Council’s, Authorities etc
Did the relevant educational public boards have the slightest inkling of the alleged corruption?
The role of public sector boards and their like, continues to raise questions about their objectivity, fairness, due diligence and potential conflicts of interest.
Many such public boards etc are stacked with party political surrogates, donors, relatives of government ministers and those who should be far away from such appointments for conflict of interest. Both JLP and PNP governments have be known to pile such public boards with their “people”.
The above mentioned columnist Garfield Higgins has been on 3 boards. Ann Marie Vaz – wife of government minister Daryl Vaz is on 2 education boards. Sharon Hay-Webster is on 5 public boards. Other government ministers are known to have relatives on these public bodies. Is the selection process to join such public bodies fair and open?
Seriously, is it sensible to have the media executive Danville Walker on multiple public boards? Walker is currently one of the most senior figures at the Jamaica Observer.
Walker was previously a JLP candidate in a general election and also former senior civil servant. But Walker is on numerous public boards that cover areas such as trade, customs, horseracing, environment, planning and former sugar-related property.
Can the Jamaica Observer be truly objective and independent in it’s coverage of the public bodies where Walker sits on and those of its other members?
Take for example Joseph Shoucair who sits on multiple public boards in areas such as sugar related property, health, finance, aluminum. Shoucair has been in the news recently over the sale of farm land to a St Lucian based holding firm, Alfabet Holdings, who represents Gassan Azan – owner of Megamart.
Shoucair and Walker both sit on Sugar Company of Jamaica Holdings Limited (SCJ) where one of it’s objectives is “Implement projects to support the divested sugar estates”.
SCJ had oversight of the Bernard Lodge land until it was reportedly bought by Azan.
- Would the Jamaican public get any objective reporting from the Observer on this subject given the connections of Shoucair and Walker on the SCJ board?
- Is this the same Gassan Azan who is on the board of directors at the Jamaica Observer along with Walker?
- Should media personnel from the private sector be allowed to sit on public boards?
So What Next?
The rumour mill hints at more to come over the Reid scandal and the relevant investigative bodies have started their own enquiries. But the public need an interim detailed statement from the PM on the scale of the allegations that triggered Reid’s sudden downfall.
Going forward the government should publish the full list of all the advisors/their salaries across the public sector. The government should also disclose the names of those current journalists who also carry out work in the public sector.
Just as they did when publishing the latest list of members on public sector boards, committees, councils etc.
Holness has dragged Reid’s former portfolios under his Office of the Prime Minister (OPM) umbrella and sent Karl Samuda (Leader of the House) to keep the seat at the education department warm. Such steps can give the perception that Holness has little faith in the potential in some of his own MPs/Senators to take over such portfolios immediately.
Holness could have simply transferred the excellent Christopher Tufton from Health to the Education and Youth portfolios. Another strong candidate would be current Justice Minister, Delroy Chuck. Ironically it is Chuck’s private law firm (he’s on secondment from there) that is representing Reid.
The Information Minister portfolio could be trusted to Senator Matthew Samuda who is a public relations professional. But then again given how constantly some cabinet ministers appear in the media is there any need for an Information Minister? Especially as Naomi Francis is Holness’ press secretary
Finally – as Education Minister – Ruel Reid was the driving force behind the new primary/prep school examination program know as Primary Exit Profile (PEP). PEP was introduced this year as Reid was keen for children to develop critical thinking much earlier in their lives.
So what the hell was he (allegedly) thinking to get fired so abruptly?
Update [15 May 2019 – CMU President Fritz Pinnock informed parliament that no birthday bash for Ruel Reid was held on the infamous yacht; the event highlighted in the press was an “industry function”.
March 2018 – $31-m Japanese grant to ease problems at Fair Prospect Primary, Black River High. Present at ceremony were MP for Black River High, Floyd Green (state Minister for Education), Ruel Reid and Ann Marie Vaz.
Did CMU pay for Ruel Reid’s yacht party?… PNP demands answers