Wed | Feb 19, 2020

Cabinet to probe CMU muzzle - Holness says ‘shocked’ by gag on council

Published:Monday | January 27, 2020 | 12:28 AMRomario Scott/Gleaner Writer

The non-disclosure agreements that were signed by former members of the troubled Caribbean Maritime University (CMU) Council are to take centre stage at Cabinet today.

Prime Minister Andrew Holness said yesterday that he was “shocked” at a Sunday Gleaner exposé yesterday detailing how the former 23-member council of the scandal-scarred east Kingston institution was made to comply with gag orders.

The agreements were signed by the council members after meeting for the first time in eight months. During the period when the board had not met, the university executed contracts totalling $200 million.

Holness said he would be seriously probing the matter.

“That is most unusual, and I will have to take advice as to whether that is permissible, and I will be doing so on Monday,” he told journalists gathered at Jamaica House on Sunday morning.

At a Jamaica Labour Party meeting in his St Andrew West Central constituency, where he again addressed the issue, Holness said that governance was a key concern for the country.

However, Dr Grace McLean, acting permanent secretary in the Ministry of Education, Youth and Information, had told The Sunday Gleaner that non-disclosure agreements were an established component of the governance framework. She said that they were included on a checklist the ministry introduced during the legislative year, along with a declaration-of-interest form.

“It is not a PNP problem or a JLP problem. It is a problem of how we have done business, particularly. We have to address that problem. There are different perspectives on it because some people feel that as you tighten the governance rules, you narrow the political space. And as leader of the country, I have to genuinely look at these concerns.

“... It needs to be properly regulated, it needs to be properly defined, and we as political actors get used to that defined space and operate in a way that is rules-based and transparent. We, the political actors, would start to build political credibility, and as we build political credibility, you, the supporters, will begin to understand and give us the space and the trust,” Holness said as he defended his administration’s stance against corruption.

And responding to whether he had knowledge of the content of the auditor general’s Special Audit Report on operations at the CMU before its tabling, the prime minister said that he was aware of the draft report since August but was not given access to the report until last week.

Holness said that the permanent secretary maintained an embargo on the report.