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Bombshell! - Hanna alleges nepotism, corruption at culture ministry

Published:Tuesday | April 4, 2017 | 12:00 AMPaul Clarke
Grange, culture minister, smiles as the charges are made.
Opposition Member of Parliament Ronald Thwaites holding his head in seeming disbelief.
Prime Minister Andrew Holness (right) and Audley Shaw, minister of finance, are stoned-faced listening to Lisa Hanna.

Former Culture Minister Lisa Hanna raised eyebrows in the parliamentary Sectoral Debate yesterday, delivering what seems like a body blow to the Andrew Holness-led Jamaica Labour Party Government after outlining detailed information that suggests nepotism and corruption at the Ministry of Culture.

Hanna, the South East St Ann member of parliament, told the House of Representatives that all was not well at the ministry led by Olivia Grange in her capacity as minister.

She said what appeared to be irregularities at the Ministry of Culture ran counter to what Prime Minister Andrew Holness has pledged would be the hallmarks of the Government he leads.

Hanna told Parliament that of the $440 million that was allocated to the Ministry of Culture by the Government for Emancipation and Heritage Week celebrations this year, only $60 million has been earmarked for the Jamaica Cultural Development Commission (JCDC).

She stated that the $60-million allocation to the JCDC was minuscule and was outlined in the Budget for the promotion of cultural activities, at the local and national levels, to unearth talent in the performing and visual arts.

She added that despite the JCDC's specific remit, a separate body called the Jamaica 55 Secretariat was established by Grange to do the JCDC's job, which is to plan and execute the festivities. Jamaica 55 will be launched today at Jamaica House.

"I regret to report, Mr Speaker, that this is not the first. A pattern seems to be developing in this ministry, whereby established state agencies are bypassed in favour of personal consultants," Hanna said.

"Mr Speaker, an external consultant was contracted in the words of his proposal letter to 'act as artistic director' for the 2016 Grand Gala. That letter is dated May 27, 2016, and by June 22, the contract was awarded lock, stock and barrel," Hanna added.

The consultant's asking fee of $15 million was adopted without negotiation to design costumes, for choreography, team leadership and to provide production assistants, all of which, according to Hanna, could have easily been done by the JCDC at no cost.

She said that information received showed that the ministry provided the production assistants promised by the consultant, but not delivered, and then arranged for the JCDC to pay an additional $2 million for these said assistants.

In addition, Hanna revealed that a business partner of the 'artistic director' in question is the current minister's paid senior adviser, whose responsibilities include the Jamaica 55 project.

... Lawmakers listened in hushed tones

After Hanna revealed her jaw-dropping allegations, the silence in Gordon House was deafening.

During her nearly 20-minute Sectoral Debate contribution, Hanna held the attention of members on both sides of the political divide as lawmakers listened in hushed tones.

It was a seemingly enraged Finance and the Public Service Minister Audley Shaw who, after listening in silence for some time, exploded into a verbal tirade: "Garbage! You're talking nonsense."

At the same time, a stern-looking Prime Minister Andrew Holness, whose attention was glued to Hanna for a significant part of her presentation, at one point conferred with Shaw.

In an interview with The Gleaner, Grange said that she would examine a copy of Hanna's speech and look "into what she has stated to see if there is any validity to it and respond".

Grange said she would address the allegations on May 2, when she makes her presentation to the Sectoral Debate.

"If she intends for us to start out as if we are going to be at each other, I don't intend to do that because there are many things that I could speak to, but I have not done so," Grange said.

The culture minister also made it clear that when she took up her ministerial responsibility, she insisted that proper governance must be observed.

"So if I find that there are any irregularities, I will certainly address that," she added.