The Public Administration and Appropriations Committee (PAAC) hearings into the shenanigans – centred on a number of scandals within Jamaica’s education sector – continues to unravel before our eyes. Leaving the public seeking with more answers.
Last week’s key takeaways from the hearing relate to certain individuals: Professor Fritz Pinnock, Othneil Lawrence, Ruel Reid and Gail Dunwell-Campbell.
- Professor Fritz Pinnock, head of Caribbean Maritime University (CMU), revealed to the PAAC that he hired Othneil Lawrence (former JLP Member of Parliament and then caretaker for St Ann North Western) as an advisor in 2018. Pinnock stressed to the committee that Lawrence was simply the only person who had the required skills necessary for this particular project at CMU. Pinnock also confirmed that Lawrence was the only person to apply for the vacancy.
- The PAAC was told that Lawrence relinquished his caretaker role for St Ann North Western and was appointed on 1 April 2018 to his CMU advisory role. Months following his appointment to CMU, Lawrence was replaced by Senator Ruel Reid, (Minister of Education, Youth and Information), as the JLP caretaker for St Ann North Western. Pinnock did not feel Lawrence’s appointment would look highly dubious or murky; given the political linkages of Reid and Lawrence.
- Pinnock told the committee that CMU had paid $JA675k for “logistics” towards a party held on a yacht attended by Ruel Reid in April 2017. Pinnock’s admission angered Wykeham McNeil (Chair of the PAAC). As McNeil felt Pinnock gave the impression at a previous sitting that CMU paid no money towards the event. Pinnock had also disclosed at the previous hearing that the yacht event was an “industry function”. But now the committee was informed in writing that the yacht event was coined “The Friends of Ruel Reid”.
- According to Pinnock, the payment for the logistics was to cancel a debt incurred in January 2017 after the event organiser, as US-based Jamaican businessman Balfour Peart, picked up the tab for ground transportation and logistics support for CMU’s team to the World University Cheerleading Competition in the United States. Peart was a PhD. student at CMU in 2018 and an ambassador for the institution.
- The committee also learnt that Gail Dunwell-Campbell – a US based Jamaican consultant – was receiving 2 separate payments from CMU and the Ministry of Education for performing the same role.
- In November 2017 Dunwell-Campbell was appointed International Donor Consultant by then minister Reid. Her role was to raise money overseas to benefit Jamaica’s education sector.
- In January 2018 Dunwell-Campbell was hired by CMU to perform a similar role. It was revealed that one invoice (addressed to CMU) from Dunwell-Campbell was for payment for $US345K -$JA48,000,000!! – of which $US170K had already been paid.
- The committee was told that the CMU board had agreed to remove the name of the disgraced former cabinet minister Andrew Wheatley from a centre that was named at the institution in his honour in November 2017.
What next for the PAAC’s investigation of CMU/MOEYI?
- I imagine Professor Pinnock will be called back to the committee to face more questions over his interactions with Dunwell-Campbell plus his business arrangements with Balfour Peart.
- Dr Grace McLean has been acting permanent secretary at the Ministry of Education since mid-February 2019. She was the one who spotted the discrepancy over Dunwell-Campbell’s financial arrangements and suspended payment immediately. Much of the alleged questionable practices seemed to have occurred prior to Dr McLean’s appointment. Therefore, the PAAC may need to question Dr Mclean’s predecessor – Dean Roy Bernard who was perm sec from November 2016 until early February 2019.
- In scandals like these, where a cabinet minister such as Reid has had to resign, parliament and independent oversight bodies have a duty to review more of Reid’s thorny decisions during his tenure. e.g. Was CMI deserving of its upgrade to (CMU) university status in September 2017? Back then some members of other tertiary institutions were livid at the government’s decision and rush to establish CMU.
- Given the furor over the naming of a centre in honour of the former Minister of Energy, Andrew Wheatley, the PAAC may need seek some update from the Dr McLean on the status of the ‘Ruel Reid Transformational Leadership Scholarship’ that was announced in 2017.
“BAU International University in Washington DC has established a scholarship in honour of Education, Youth and Information Minister, Senator the Hon. Ruel Reid. The decision to set up the ‘Ruel Reid Transformational Leadership Scholarship’ was taken by the University to recognise Senator Reid’s lead role in arriving at a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the Ministry and the University for the provision of 107 scholarships, over three years, worth $378.2 million (US$3 million)...Jamaica’s Ambassador to the United States, Her Excellency Audrey Marks, and the Ministry’s newly appointed International Donor Consultant for the Jamaican Diaspora in the US, Gail Dunwell, who works closely with the National Education Trust, were also instrumental in initiating the partnership.. – JIS”
Respect to the Select Committees and PBC
These televised/streamed select committees hearings continue to be a revelation to Jamaicans concerned about corruption and gross misuse of public funds. The MPs must take credit for doing such a superb job in probing the public servants and other key players. However some PAAC members – on the government side – are an embarrassment in playing tactical games to prevent the public servants from answering certain questions.
In Jamaica, you cannot rely on police investigations and audit reports to get at the real truth of any corruption. The excellent reports from the Contractor General and Auditor General goes only so far and sometimes get lost or delayed in parliament’s tabling process. But thankfully these select committees are doing a fabulous job at holding the government to account.
However, these select committee members are stretched and need extra technical support (such as researchers and investigators) to be more effective. Some members are on at least 5 different select committees with limited back office resources.
The select committee hearings have also given Jamaicans the opportunity to witness some of the excellent civil servants who are trying their best to uphold the integrity and independence of their departments. Which can be a tall order for civil servants, when working alongside colleagues who were recruited to senior positions based solely on their political affiliation.
What is also pleasing about these committee hearings is the number of students from secondary and tertiary institutions in the public gallery watching the proceedings.
Credit to the Public Broadcasting Corporation (PBC) for relaying parliament live via various media platforms. Plus storing the parliamentary proceedings on their You Tube account allows the public to view at the own convenience.
February – March 2019
Looking back to February and March earlier this year it was a interesting period for the Ministry of Education, Youth, and Information where major staff changes were made that makes you now go hmmm.
- 13 February – Floyd Green, then junior education minister, was transferred to a similar role at the Ministry of Industry, Commerce, Agriculture and Fisheries. This move surprised many observers who thought Green was destined quickly for promotion to the cabinet. What happened?
- 15 February – Dean Roy Bernard, permanent secretary was moved to the Ministry of Finance to take up a new role as director general. Given that permanent secretary is generally a higher grade than director general, was Bernard demoted?
- 20 March 2019 – Ruel Reid resigned (technically fired) from the cabinet. Reid also quit as a member of the senate. Still there is too much silence as to the reasons why Reid was pushed.
Were all these major personnel changes connected or just simply a coincidence?
Corruption vs Solid Waste?
As Jamaicans learn more about the inflated pay packages and exaggerated job titles for politically well-connected figures in the public sector (e.g. PCJ, Petrojam, CMU), spare a thought for the men and women who collect garbage across the island.
Last Tuesday in the same parliament, to much fanfare and applause by government MPs, Desmond McKenzie, Minister of Local Government, announced that the men and women who collect the nation’s garbage will receive a whopping 28% pay rise.
They will now earn $JA2000 ($US14) per day.
The Gleaner – Untidy Contracts