Wed | Dec 12, 2018

Editorial | Three cheers to David McBean

Published:Friday | July 27, 2018 | 12:00 AM

Even if Carolyn Warren wasn't the subject of the chairman's intervention, it would still be of profound public relevance, highlighting, as it does, the problems of governance at state agencies, including often a blurring of lines of demarcation between boards and executive managers.

In that context, competent, independent-minded managers of such enterprises, and the public at large, owe a debt of gratitude to David McBean, former CEO of the Spectrum Management Authority, for resisting what seems to have been a brazen attempt of the then chairman of that agency, Trevor Forrest, to insert himself into the day-to-day management of SMA.

We have no doubt that many other examples of adherence to principle, as was exhibited by Dr McBean in his 2016 stand-off with Mr Forrest, exist elsewhere in the public sector. But its emergence at this time - notwithstanding the embarrassment it may cause to Ms Warren at a difficult time for her - is fortuitous given the public's low level of confidence in political and public-sector leadership and the widening debate on how this can be reversed.

Ms Warren resigned Wednesday as managing director of the State-owned National Energy Solutions Limited (NESol) ,weeks after the revelation that she was convicted two decades ago, which, Ms Warren confirmed, she did not reveal at the time of her employment. The disclosure came in the face of accusations of mismanagement, political cronyism, and other forms of corruption at the agency. The NESol issue gained added currency because of the similarities in the allegations to complaints made about state-owned oil refinery Petrojam, another entity that fell within the portfolio of former energy minister, Dr Andrew Wheatley.

While Dr Wheatley was relieved of responsibility for energy, he is still a member of Cabinet as the minister for science and technology. This means that SMA is one of the agencies that report to him, as was the case in August and September of 2016 when Dr McBean took his stand against Mr Forrest's encroachment.

A Rhodes Scholar, who has a PhD in engineering science from Oxford, Dr McBean is currently executive director of the Mona School of Business and Management at the University of the West Indies. He has confirmed that in 2016, he received Ms Warren's rÈsumÈ from an SMA board member, with a recommendation that she be added to a shortlist of five candidates who were culled from the initial 58 applicants to be interviewed.

The receipt of Ms Warren's resume was buttressed by an email from Mr Forrest that it be added "to your shortlisted candidates for interview and consideration" .

 

'Highly Irregular'

 

Dr McBean rejected that directive on the basis that the application was "by the normal route" and that her addition at that stage, after the shortlist had been compiled, would be "highly irregular" and would raise questions about fairness and transparency.

When Mr Forrest insisted, Dr McBean told him that the "Corporate Governance Framework that speaks to the delineation of the roles and responsibilities of the chairman and board, vis-a-vis the role of the executive in day-to-day operations may be pertinent to this discussion".

In other words, the chairman was overstepping his bounds. In the face of the impasse, Mr Forrest called for a review of the corporate government procedures, while demanding that recruitment of the administrative manager be halted.

It is not clear what happened subsequent to this dispute and whether it contributed to Dr McBean's departure from SMA, with loss of his intellect and considerable skills to the public sector. But such resolution, which Dr McBean displayed in the handling of the Caricel affair, is a teaching moment for other managers who feel they are being pressured to break the rules. Therein lies a great value in this issue becoming public.