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CMU’s ambassador’s lips sealed

Published:Friday | May 31, 2019 | 12:23 AMLivern Barrett/Senior Parliamentary Reporter
We’re buddies! (From left) Pals Dr Fritz Pinnock, Ruel Reid, and Balfour Peart pose for a snap. Contributed
We’re buddies! (From left) Pals Dr Fritz Pinnock, Ruel Reid, and Balfour Peart pose for a snap. Contributed

Balfour Peart, the United States-based Jamaican businessman placed in the spotlight because of two payments by Caribbean Maritime University (CMU) totalling almost $700,000 towards a yacht party for since-discarded education minister Ruel Reid, has opted to keep quiet about the arrangement.

Peart made it clear, during an interview with The Gleaner yesterday, that “whatever I did was a private matter”.

“Not up for discussion. It remains a private matter for me,” he insisted.

Peart, however, confirmed that he is an “ambassador” for CMU but clarified that he was not “employed” to the east Kingston-based institution. He suggested that The Gleaner ask CMU to explain his engagement.

“If you contact CMU, more than likely they can tell you exactly what’s the functions of the ambassador and in what space they operate,” he said.

Peart, a past student of Munro College and chief executive officer of the Florida-based logistics firm TyCarBal Associates Inc, came to public attention on Tuesday after CMU President Dr Fritz Pinnock backtracked and admitted that the university paid a total of $674,930 towards the party for Reid.

B&D Trawling was paid $160,000 to rent the yacht, named Caribbean Queen, for four hours, while DEC Events was paid $514,930 to decorate it, documents submitted by CMU to the Public Administration and Appropriations Committee (PAAC) of Parliament have revealed.

President of CMU, Professor Fritz Pinnock, speaking during a meeting of the PAAC on Tuesday, explained that the payments were made against a US$8,300 debt CMU owed to Peart.

The businessman was part of a group called ‘Friends of Ruel Reid’ that was organising the soirée to recognise the achievements of the former education minister and wrote to CMU on April 10, 2017, requesting assistance.

The party was held 10 days later aboard the yacht on the Kingston Harbour.

Pinnock told the parliamentary committee that the US$8,300 debt was incurred in January 2017 after Peart picked up the tab for ground transportation and logistics support for CMU’s team, which had travelled to Florida to compete in the World University Cheerleading Competition.

“Having thought to the outstanding amount owed to Mr Peart, CMU advanced funds totalling $674,930 to cover the payments to the vendors it has engaged in providing services for the industry event [party],” CMU explained.

Told of the arrangement, Peart maintained his stance.

“Whatever I did wasn’t anything public, so I have absolutely no comment. I don’t operate a public company,” he insisted.

“I’ve been taking care of scholarships for people all over Jamaica over the years. That’s all I do – take care of poor people’s business,” Peart added.

DEC Events defended the price tag for the decorations amid concerns that it was significantly more than the rental cost for the yacht.

A spokesperson for the company revealed that in addition to the cost of the fabric and furnishings that were provided, there were charges for the transportation of the decoration and its employees.

“A party boat is usually in a condition, so we had to use some fabric to hide rotten areas,” the spokesperson told The Gleaner.

“We had to get the right little floral centrepieces, then we had to use little ottomans, then we had to use lighting to give it that ambience, and things like that. So all of that is involved in that figure,” the DEC Events representative said.