Mon | Jun 17, 2019

Damion Mitchell | Karl Samuda and the cloudy JC money

Published:Sunday | May 26, 2019 | 12:23 AM
Prime Minister Andrew Holness (right) shortly after the unveiling of a monument for the Ashenheim Stadium on February 20. Also in photo are Michael Ashenheim (second left), benefactor of the stadium; Ruel Reid (left), the then minister of education; and Michael Bernard, chairman of the Jamaica College board.
The Jamaica College Ashenheim Stadium.
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I watched in awe last Tuesday as Karl Samuda, the minister without portfolio with responsibility for education, bulldozed a gullible Michael Stewart, the Manchester South MP who is also the Opposition’s deputy spokesman on education.

Samuda was responding to questions about the sudden resignation of Education Minister Ruel Reid and the controversy over a $20-million donation the prime minister had said was made by the education ministry to Jamaica College, the institution from which Reid had been seconded to work in Government.

Holness was speaking on February 20 this year at the official opening of the Jamaica College athletics stadium donated by the Ashenheim family when he announced that the education ministry had made a $20-million donation towards the project.

Here was the question tabled for Samuda to answer: What assurance can you give the general public that the $20 million that was alleged to have gone to Jamaica College was paid back to the Ministry of Education?

This was Samuda’s response: “There was no transfer of $20 million from the Ministry of Education, Youth and Information to Jamaica College. The school, therefore, could not return money to the ministry that it did not receive.”

According to Samuda, only $10 million was given to the school by the education ministry in additional support, otherwise called subvention, and had nothing to do with the stadium.

This was new information.

It was when I dropped my pen and raised my hands in complete shock.

Let’s recall that on March 27 – that’s seven days after Samuda was assigned responsibility for education – the ministry issued a press release confirming a $20-million donation.

The press release read in full: “The Ministry of Education, Youth and Information wishes to emphasise that the $20 million previously committed by former Minister of Education Ruel Reid, and referred to by the prime minister as a contribution to Jamaica College towards their stadium, was not transferred to the school and remains with the Government of Jamaica.

“On the instructions of the prime minister, this planned contribution was halted as a review of the ministry’s systems and programmes continues.

“As part of the review process, the ministry is assessing all requested, proposed or planned expenditure of this nature.

“So far, the Government has donated $10 million to the stadium project through the Sports Development Foundation. The school was also the beneficiary of a grant, which was used for repairs of the school infrastructure.”

Why was it necessary?

So why was it necessary for the ministry to give Jamaica College $10 million in “additional support”, or subvention, as Samuda puts it, plus commit another $20 million to the same institution for which Reid was the substantive principal?

Without even probing the issue of transparency and perceived conflict, Samuda’s double play has knocked me out.

At no point did he say the information released by the prime minister on March 20 or his ministry on March 27 was wrong and the docile Stewart would only hope aloud that Samuda would provide a more satisfactory response.

Opposition Leader Dr Peter Phillips intervened seeking to press Samuda for a more fulsome explanation, but the minister simply sat through the raindrops and came out as dry as chip.

According to Samuda, the Opposition’s questions were based on false information and he was not aware of the prime minister’s pronouncements about the $20 million, so he would not be the best person to respond to matters arising from that utterance.

I would think, however, that at the very least, Samuda would have had sight of the very first release issued by the ministry under his portfolio on March 27, seeking to clarify the donation dismalness.

Be that as it may, who are we to believe this time: the prime minister, the education ministry under Samuda then, or Samuda himself now?

It doesn’t sound good, Minister, and it doesn’t Reid well either.

- Damion Mitchell is The Gleaner’s Integration Editor. Email comments to damion.mitchell@gleanerjm.com or columns@gleanerjm.com, or tweet @DamionMitch.