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‘Untidy’ contracts draw PAAC’s ire

Published:Thursday | May 30, 2019 | 12:16 AMLivern Barrett/Senior Parliamentary Reporter

With an associate degree, former Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) Member of Parliament Othneil Lawrence secured a three-year contract that pays him $5.1 million a year, or $425,000 per month, to serve as an adviser to the Caribbean Maritime University (CMU).

By contrast, a female consultant with a master’s degree and “tremendous years of experience in her field” has been engaged by CMU since September last year on renewable three-month contracts that pay her $212,934 per month.

Lawrence, a former junior transport minister who had direct responsibility for CMU, was the only candidate interviewed for the position as CMU adviser last January, CMU President Professor Fritz Pinnock confirmed yesterday.

By April 1, 2018, Lawrence had his three-year contract, and three months later, the JLP announced that Ruel Reid, the education minister at the time, would replace him as constituency caretaker for St Ann North West. CMU currently falls under the Ministry of Education.

The disclosures were made during the weekly meeting of the Public Administration and Appropriations Committee (PAAC) of Parliament, and opposition members immediately demanded an explanation for the disparity in the two salaries.

“How do you rationalise a consultant with a master’s degree getting $212,000-plus as compared with another adviser with an associate degree getting $425,000?” asked Michael Stewart, member of parliament for Manchester Southern.

“If you look at it from the table, of course, it may send the signal that it is high. But in terms of the value of what we are getting, Sir, I would say otherwise,” Pinnock responded.

“You look at it from just a degree, but the experience goes a far way. We were looking for skill sets that did not reside in traditional academia,” he added.

Further, documents submitted to the PAAC show that in January last year, Gail Dunwell Campbell, a Jamaican living in the state of Georgia in the United States, and described as a “diaspora network marketer”, was given a two-year contract by CMU “to explore and identify international funding and partnerships” for the east Kingston-based university.

Dunwell Campbell’s contract stipulated that she be paid in US dollars based on invoices she submitted to CMU. Pinnock revealed that already, CMU has received invoices totalling US$345,000 and has paid out US$107,000.

This disclosure opened a can of worms.

In addition to questions from opposition members about whether CMU was getting value for money or had systems in place to verify the claims submitted, the education ministry confirmed that Dunwell Campbell was simultaneously contracted as an “international donor consultant” with the National Education Trust (NET) and was being paid $3.5 million a year. The contract was signed on January 1, 2017.

NET also falls under the Ministry of Education.

“At the time when she was engaged by the CMU, I’m advised – as I was not in the chair at the time – that the Ministry [of Education] did not know that she was being engaged by the CMU,” Dr Grace McLean, permanent secretary in the Ministry of Education, told members of the PAAC.

PAAC Chairman Dr Wykeham McNeill labelled the arrangements as “untidy”.

McLean acknowledged that she became aware of the “situation” when NET presented a new contract for Dunwell Campbell. She said the entity indicated that Dunwell Campbell’s contract did not prevent her from having a second contract in Jamaica.

“Nevertheless, further information came to the fore, and we have not engaged her activity since. We have not formally terminated that contract [with NET], but we have asked her to be on hold until we’ve had all these issues sorted out,” she said.

The permanent secretary warned that changes are coming.

“At this point in time, it would not be in the ministry’s best interest to continue with the current deliverables and actual focus of the contract,” she said.