Wed | Dec 12, 2018

Editorial | Mr Forrest’s lapse of logic

Published:Tuesday | July 31, 2018 | 12:00 AM

Trevor Forrest appears unconvinced by the essential logic of the arguments of those who found error in his 2016 attempt to parachute Carolyn Warren on to a shortlist of candidates for a job at the Spectrum Management Authority (SMA), which was resisted by the then CEO, David McBean. So, there is a danger, we fear, of Mr Forrest lapsing into the same indiscretion, if not at the SMA, of which he is chairman, but at other state agencies on whose boards he may sit. That would be to the detriment of good governance.

Mrs Warren last week resigned as CEO of the Government's National Energy Solutions Ltd (NESol) following the revelation of her multiple criminal convictions of more than two decades ago, about which she said she didn't inform her employers. Her departure was part of the deepening scandal at agencies under the portfolio of the science and technology minister, Andrew Wheatley, who was earlier forced to relinquish responsibility for energy in the face of allegations of corruption at the Petrojam oil refinery and NESol.

 

APPLICATIONS

 

In August 2016, when the SMA was seeking a manager for administration, Mrs Warren's application was forwarded to Dr McBean for her to be considered among the applicants, but that was after the post had been advertised, nearly 60 applications received, and five selected for interviews.

When this was pointed out to Mr Forrest, he nonetheless insisted, making clear in an email that "my request still stands". Dr McBean continued to resist, citing the obligations of good governance. His chairman finally retreated, apparently grudgingly, only after the agency's written policy and procedures for the agency's human resource management was tabled by the CEO and certified by the permanent secretary in the energy and technology ministry.

Mr Forrest now says that his actions were mischaracterised as an attempt to subvert the recruitment process and an attempt to ensure the employment of Mrs Warren, who he had never met and didn't care if she was hired. Her application, he said, was referred to him "before the deadline, but based on my own tardiness, forwarded to management late, with the attendant request".

Maybe it is that Mr Forrest, in the circumstance as outlined, owed Mrs Warren a personal and private duty of agency and care. That duty could not be greater than his obligation to protect the integrity and processes of governance of the SMA. It is indeed surprising that Mr Forrest did not immediately appreciate, or embrace, the principle asserted by Dr McBean, even only on the basis of what would be good form.

 

CAUSE OF ACTION

 

But there were also potentially large legal principles, which Mr Forrest seems not to have considered, either then or now. If Dr McBean had acquiesced to the pressures and added Mrs Warren to the shortlist of candidates, it is possible that any of the 50 candidates who had followed the procedures, but who had been excluded from the final contenders, may have had cause of action.

Indeed, there seem to be parallels between this issue and the matter of the Australian company, at a late date, after the bidding process was closed, being allowed to tender on an LNG supply and regasification project. It is now settled principle that such usurpation of procurement rules is not allowable, however good the intention - as the then energy minister, Phillip Paulwell, argued his was.

Mr Forrest says he regularly receives rÈsumÈs from professionals seeking jobs and would now consider them "occupational hazards". That, though, would be only in the event of him attempting to circumvent due process.