Mon | Nov 30, 2020

Former PS seeks to distance himself from CMU scandal ... Says finger pointed at the wrong person

Published:Sunday | August 11, 2019 | 12:00 AM
Dean-Roy Bernard
The Caribbean Maritime University.
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Dean-Roy Bernard, the former permanent secretary (PS) in the Ministry of Education, Youth and Information (MoEYI), now director general in the Ministry of Finance, has sought to distance himself from the affairs of the troubled operations of the Caribbean Maritime University (CMU)

CMU is now embroiled in a corruption scandal involving the MoEYI and other institutions, which led to the resignation of portfolio minister Ruel Reid. A probe is currently under way into allegations of corruption and misuse of public funds.

The ministry’s current permanent secretary (acting), Grace McLean, had noted during recent appearances before the Public Administration and Appropriations Committee (PAAC) of Parliament about operations at the ministry, that she took instructions from Bernard, who was responsible for accountability at MoEYI at the time.

However, Bernard countered that McLean, who was the then chief education officer, had direct responsibility for all tertiary institutions under the ministry.

“CMU, like the other thirteen tertiary institutions, had a governance system which included a council, chancellor, president, at least three vice- presidents, including a vice-president for legal affairs who is a trained and qualified attorney-at-law, and a finance manager, who ought to have had sufficient training and expertise in the area of financial management, inclusive of being cleared by the FAA Board of the Ministry of Finance prior to his employment,” Bernard stated, inter alia, in a Sunday Gleaner exclusive, challenging the adverse findings of the auditor general (AG) into the operations of the ministry during his tenure.

The AG report, tabled in Parliament in July, was highly critical of the operations of MoEYI as well as entities under its authority, including the CMU.

“The office of the Chief Education Officer has direct responsibility for all tertiary institutions, including the CMU, and that office is required to account to the permanent secretary on issues at these institutions,” he noted, fingering McLean, who would later take over his position when he said he was demoted in February.

Her role was converted to acting following his decision to seek a judicial review of his current position as director general. Bernard contends that there is no such position in the establishment at the finance ministry.

He told The Sunday Gleaner that upon being made aware of police investigations into the allegations at CMU, he made enquiries, and not being satisfied, instructed his internal audit division to visit, and commence an audit.

He said written instructions were provided to McLean on January 21, 2019 (a copy of which was presented to The Sunday Gleaner).

Bernard said, however, that he was unable to complete the exercise as directed, as within weeks he was “reassigned”, which made it difficult for him to participate in “any exit meetings of the auditor general”.

Still, he was unable to escape the auditor general’s adverse findings, although he maintains it was McLean’s portfolio. His displeasure was evident in his response to the findings, which noted the ministry’s approval for CMU to retrofit a container at one of it centres without a memorandum of understanding, the requisite resources, approval, and cost benefits.

INCORRECT FINDINGS

Auditor General Pamela Monroe Ellis wrote that Bernard “approved the contracts, bypassing the due diligence of the procurement committee, and further breached the procurement guideline by not obtaining the approval of the National Contracts Commission (NCC) for seven of the contracts, which have values that required NCC’s approval”.

Contracts valuing more than $30 million require NCC approval.

“I note the direct reference of these actions to me and wish to state that I categorically refute any assertion that I bypassed due diligence processes. It is unfortunate that the auditor general’s officers failed to disclosed to her that CMU’s engagement was after presentations were made to officers of the MoEYI management team, which included the chief education officer and the director of technical services and chief building officer,” the former permanent secretary responded, inter alia.

The ministry, he said, was satisfied that CMU’s specialised designs and quick access to materials, plus its offsite assembling capabilities, would “inure (sic) to cheaper, faster delivery of classrooms to meet the urgent need for space”.

“It is unfortunate that the auditor general’s officers failed to satisfy themselves that the CMU rates were in fact competitive, a process it could have undertaken through simple industry independent third-party queries as allowed by the auditing standards before arriving at its unfortunate conclusions,” he chided.

Bernard said he took steps to satisfy himself that the rates were competitive, repeating that “it is unfortunate that the auditors had no discussion with me before arriving at this conclusion”.

erica.virtue@gleanerjm.com