Sat | Feb 22, 2020

Ronald Thwaites | Shame and scandal

Published:Monday | January 27, 2020 | 12:17 AM
Caribbean Maritime University students exit the east Kingston campus.

The scandal and corruption having to do with the Ministry of Education and the Caribbean Maritime University are of even greater shame and long-term distress than that surrounding Manatt a decade ago.

This is true, first because it is happening repeatedly – on the heels of the still-stinking Petrojam abscess for one; then because it demeans and probably destroys a most admirable and vital institution (Karl Samuda’s well-­meaning effort at cheerleading notwithstanding); and most of all because its gravity and as-yet-undiscovered extent rivet in the minds of an already-cynical society, a ­perception of the political culture as being endemically corrupt and unworthy of participation – except for those – ‘looking something’.

Where did all the money come from to do the things outlined in the auditor general’s report? Was the CMU budget so ample? Are subventions from the ministry fully accounted for? Did donations come through the national education tax? What about the CAP funds from the HEART/Trust NTA? Shouldn’t there be an audit of all these agencies in the face of what was ever so reluctantly disclosed last Tuesday?

Any way you take it, all of us lose. Dudus was about raw criminality and garrison politics, and in the end it was really the might of the United States, rather than our resolve, which brought us to our senses. This time it is we who are ‘samfying’ ourselves. Some continue to deny what is happening; others want to prevent appropriately strong reaction; while many see the thievery as nothing more than the new normal.

The CMU Council is being allowed to ‘tek bush’ without any accountability for their laziness or complicity. Until cleared, the staff of the university and the higher echelons of the ministry will carry the cross of suspicion and disrespect.

I feel very sorry about this. Fritz Pinnock has been a rare exemplar of prodigious vision and hard work. Not single-handedly, but, by far, first among all others, he has built that institution to be a model of relevant, disciplined, economy-sensitive education and training. The only failing I ever detected in him was an overweening desire to please.

I can say the same, with equal confidence, about Dr Grace McLean at the Ministry of Education. Ever anxious to make things work and to support government policy and whoever is the minister of the day, she contributes mightily to advancing education at considerable personal sacrifice.

So how has this happened? Did a toxic, boastful, crony-ridden politics overtake ministry, agencies and university alike? What Mafia-like code of silence overtook public officers who must have suspected what was going on? How could so much cash have been provided and contracts of such magnitude been let without ministerial and prime ministerial knowledge?

All this in the context of every primary school being run down by the said ministry to account for their canteen receipts and every church school being badgered to turn over their fundraising proceeds. And not to mention the unpaid bills and chronic cash flow tightness in schools, while ­millions were being laundered between Heroes Circle and Palisadoes.

These are but a few of the questions and concerns which Mrs Munroe-Ellis’ report throws up and for which Opposition parliamentarians properly sought answers last Tuesday.

How could it have been otherwise? After being kicked in the face and lied to by being the last to have sight of a report addressed to us, how could anyone have been satisfied with Karl’s attempt at ignorance and anaesthesia, or Pearnell's bromide about muzzling discussion? Why childishly hide the copies of the report under the table at the back corner of the Chamber instead of laying them honestly as soon as received many, many weeks ago?

Tomorrow then will come the distasteful recourse of censoring the Speaker. Whatever the outcome, likely none of the big issues raised here and in Bunting's speech will be addressed. Then comes the Budget process and the distinct possibility that the Public Accounts Committee will not take up the issue for several months,maybe not even till after the election.

Perhaps that is how the party in office wants it to be. It was noticeable that their colleagues to the right showed no support for either Samuda or Charles last week. 

But is this how we want to run the country?

- Ronald Thwaites is member of parliament for Kingston Central. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.