Tue | Jul 23, 2019

Damion Mitchell | What exactly is an ‘industry function’, Professor Pinnock?

Published:Sunday | May 19, 2019 | 12:25 AM
Caribbean Maritime University President Dr Fritz Pinnock (right) pays tribute to then Education Minister Ruel Reid during the April 2017 party on the Caribbean Queen.
Collette Pryce, former vice-principal at Jamaica College, signs the guest book at the yacht party for Ruel Reid in April 2017.
Damion Mitchell
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I paid keen attention to Wednesday's sitting of Parliament’s Public Administration and Appropriations Committee (PAAC) meeting as Dr Fritz Pinnock, the Caribbean Maritime University (CMU) president, faced questions about the 2017 yacht party for since-discarded Education Minister Ruel Reid.

I took particular note of his choice of words, his body language, and his general demeanour as I watched the live broadcast via the Public Broadcasting Corporation of Jamaica. And when it was done, I watched it on the Internet again and again and then just one more time.

Pause: “The CMU did not host any birthday function for the minister,” Pinnock said.

Okay, I thought to myself, wondering, so who did?

Play: “What you saw was an industry function which included the members of the tertiary sector.”

Stop! You mean the same function that I attended aboard the yacht on April 20, 2017?

Undoubtedly, that was the function to which Pinnock was referring. He may be right. It was not a birthday party. That’s not what we were told on being invited.

But it was definitely a function in honour of Reid, a former master teacher at Munro College in St Elizabeth, a one-time Jamaica Teachers’ Association president, and the substantive principal of Jamaica College who, at the time, had been elevated to the seat of chief policymaker for the sector in which he had made a name for himself.

Pinnock, under questioning from the Opposition’s St Catherine South MP Fitz Jackson, said the function was attended by figures in the education fraternity. That, too, is true. There were many of them there.

But I hope to the heavens he was not trying to say that the fact that farmers in any random community may attend the same church for Sunday worship means they are attending an agricultural service.


IN PHOTO: Collette Pryce, former vice-principal at Jamaica College, signs the guest book at the yacht party for Ruel Reid in April 2017.

How could it be an industry function when Reid was the only one being honoured? All tributes, bar none, were in his honour. And, if that wasn’t enough, as invitees entered the deck, they were greeted by a large image of Reid, fitted in fine tuxedo, overlooking a guest book for them to sign.

If it were an industry function, I would think other players would have even a selfie on display.

Since Pinnock’s appearance at the parliamentary committee, I tried without success to make contact with him to have him explain what really is his concept of an “industry function”, and the education ministry has promised to respond to questions about who funded this event.

To be clear, I see nothing inherently wrong in recognising Reid for his contribution to education. But if the celebration was paid for from the public purse, taxpayers have every right to know all the relevant details.

I find it extremely curious, however, that when the questions about the funding of the yacht party were first posed to the education ministry, Permanent Secretary Dr Grace McLean told the committee that the CMU boss was present and so deferred to him.

Unfortunately, when Pinnock took the microphone, he hastened to reject the assertion that CMU had paid for a BIRTHDAY party on the yacht, instead saying it was an industry function. But even so, he never said who funded it.

So is there more to it that McLean decided to let Pinnock face the questions about the yacht event?

The matter is certainly not in the dock until the funding questions are answered, and it would be better for transparency and accountability if the mooring buoys are deployed sooner than later.

- Damion Mitchell is The Gleaner’s integration editor. Email feedback to damion.mitchell@gleanerjm.com and columns@gleanerjm.com.