UPDATED: SLB spree - Unapproved $2.5m retreat, management issues among concerns over dissolved board
A culture of mismanagement and lavish excess was behind Finance Minister Dr Nigel Clarke’s decision to dissolve the board of the Students’ Loan Bureau (SLB) last month.
Barely a month after it was revealed that the stock of non-performing loans at the SLB had climbed to over $11 billion, the management of the state-run entity shelled out close to $2.5 million for a “staff retreat” without the approval of the board of directors, government insiders have charged.
The retreat was reportedly held at an all-inclusive hotel in Montego Bay, St James, in November last year. Members of the board were invited, via email, to attend although they were not asked to approve the expenditure, sources claimed.
Insiders charged, too, that former SLB Chairman Dr St Aubyn Bartlett signed off on a contract extension for the agency’s executive director, Monica Brown, without consulting other board members.
One insider told The Gleaner that this has left the Government in a legal dilemma about whether Brown’s contract is valid.
According to the insider, both issues were among a range of governance concerns raised by at least four members of the former board. As a result, the four former directors wrote to Finance Minister Dr Nigel Clarke outlining their concerns.
“Dr Bartlett took it upon himself to renew the contract of Monica Brown despite the objections of some board members. I would imagine it was these members who brought the matter to the minister’s attention,” the insider claimed.
Bartlett refused to comment when The Gleaner contacted him yesterday.
“I don’t know who you are, so I can’t answer questions from people I don’t know,” he told this reporter when asked about the contract extension for Brown.
“As I said, I can’t answer any questions because I don’t know who you are,” he said when asked about the “staff retreat”.
The finance ministry acknowledged in a statement that members of the former SLB board “raised concerns regarding governance and management issues within the entity” from as far back as November last year.
Last month, sources revealed, Clarke dissolved the Bartlett-led board and began the process of appointing a new one.
“On enquiry, it was evident that there was a difference of opinion on these issues within the board. In discussions with board members, Minister Clarke decided that a reconstitution of the board was best,” the statement from the ministry said.
“Minister Clarke wishes to place on record his gratitude to the board members who fulfilled their duty by bringing to his attention matters of concern,” it added.
On Wednesday, Financial Secretary Darlene Morrison confirmed that the Bartlett-led board had demitted office last December.
A new 11-member board was announced yesterday, with Nicholas Scott as chairman and Sandra Glasgow as his deputy.
Clarke confirmed that when he took over as finance minister last year, all state boards appointed by his predecessor, Audley Shaw, were asked to remain in place.
Sources close to the finance ministry said that the four former directors who wrote to Clarke should be lauded for their action.
“The members of the board were right to raise their concerns with the minister. They expected him to act decisively and he did. That is what people must expect of their minister because this is taxpayers’ money,” one source said.
(EDITOR'S NOTE: A previous version of this article may have given the impression that the SLB board was fired. The board had previously offered its resignation, but Finance Minister Nigel Clarke had asked its members to stay on for a period, before subsequently determining it was the appropriate time to dissolve the board.)