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Fire Brigade board denies nepotism, favouritism charges

Published:Sunday | March 10, 2019 | 12:00 AMErica Virtue - Gleaner Writer

The board of the Jamaica Fire Brigade has defended its promotion practices despite a damning revelation in the March 3, 2019, edition of The Sunday Gleaner that a senior human resource official had cited favouritism and nepotism among multiple breaches of public-service hiring guidelines.

In a letter submitted Friday, Emeleo Ebanks, senior deputy superintendent of the brigade, objected to the impression that “the board is handing out jobs to people on the basis of favour instead of their credentials, experience or ability, and also allowing executive staff to do the same”. The board denied allegations of corruption made by then director of human resource management, Valerie Cookhorne, who cited irregularities in the promotion of Elva Lynch and Sandra Davis.

The Fire Brigade said due process was observed in the hiring of Lynch, then assistant corporate planner, to act as corporate planner and later as human resources director. Ebanks said the previous corporate planner had resigned on November 30, 2015, and three persons within the organisation, including Lynch, had expressed an interest in the post.

“In keeping with an agreement with the trade unions representing staff at the Fire Brigade, these three persons were each given the opportunity to act as corporate planner on a rotational basis over a 10-month period, which commenced in January 2016. At the end of this period, the post was advertised on October 4, 2016 and Ms Lynch, along with another of the three persons who had acted, indicated their desire for the job on a permanent basis … ,” read the letter.

Lynch was described as experienced and having detailed knowledge of the organisation, which were factors in her subsequent promotion to act as human resources director when Cookhorne retired in 2018.

“In the search for an ideal candidate, the post was advertised on two separate occasions, and a total of 12 persons responded to both advertisements. Five were shortlisted for further interviews …,” the letter said.

Interviews for the applicants, including Lynch, were held in November 2018 and she was unsuccessful, the board said. The Gleaner had learnt more than a month ago that a replacement had been reportedly found. However, up to Friday, March 1, Lynch still retained the HR directorship.

Cookhorne officially proceeded on pre-retirement leave on March 1, 2018, and the post became vacant on June 21, 2018.

Cookhorne, as HR director in 2016, had challenged the process behind the elevation of Lynch to corporate planner as unfair and likely to stoke disharmony among staff because Lynch had not met the basic academic qualifications for the job, among several other irregularities.

“Having regard to Ms Lynch’s institutional knowledge of the JFB garnered over a period of 26 years, the then commissioner of the Fire Brigade asked her to act in the capacity during this pre-retirement period. The board also considered the issue of seniority, given that the post of human resource management and development director is ranked at the third level of the Senior Executive Group (SEG3). As the substantive corporate planner, Ms Lynch was the only person in the Fire Brigade who was serving at the SEG2 level, which is next to the human resource management and development post.”

The Fire Brigade board said that it was committed to restructuring the organisational development of the entity, and that it had submitted a report to the Ministry of Local Government for review.