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Light stays on CMU - PAAC demands update on controversial contracts

Published:Thursday | September 19, 2019 | 12:17 AMLivern Barrett/Senior Staff Reporter

A parliamentary committee is demanding answers from the Education Ministry about the status of three multimillion-dollar contracts linked to allegations of irregularity at a number of agencies that fall under its remit.

The contracts in question include the two-year $20-million deal and the three-year $15-million agreement that the Caribbean Maritime University (CMU) signed with Gail Campbell Dunwell and former junior Transport Minister Othneil Lawrence to serve as consultants.

Campbell Dunwell was simultaneously making $3.5 million per year doing similar consultancy work for the National Education Trust, the Education Ministry previously disclosed.

Yesterday, chairman of Parliament’s Public Administration and Appropriations Committee (PAAC) Dr Wykeham McNeill recounted that Dr Grace McLean, acting permanent secretary in the Ministry of Education, indicated in June that she could not discuss it because “sensitive discussions were taking place”.

Said McNeill: “In the last three to four months or more, those discussions should be terminated and we need to know what has happened with the contracts of both Campbell Dunwell as well as former Member of Parliament Othneil Lawrence.”

He added: “Whether those contracts are still in effect? Are they still being paid or not? Have they been terminated? We need to get it from the Ministry of Education because in one case, they were being paid by both entities.”

Lawrence signed his contract on April 1 last year, and three months later, the governing Jamaica Labour Party announced that discarded Education Minister Ruel Reid had been appointed to replace him as caretaker for the constituency of St Ann North West.

McNeill said that the PAAC would also push to get an update on the status of the catering contracts given to several persons, including a councillor in North West St Ann, to provide meals for students in the Career Advancement Programme-Youth Empowerment Solution (CAP-YES) initiative.

“We need to know, are those catering contracts still on, and what is the situation? Having unearthed these things, has the ministry moved to correct what we have seen as anomalies or has it remained business as usual?”

Further, PAAC member Mikeal Phillips said that the ministry needs to indicate whether the stipend owed to students in the CAP-YES initiative has been paid over.

The controversial contracts were among a number of issues for which the PAAC said it would request updates from the relevant government ministries and investigative agencies. The others include the multimillion contract the Ministry of National Security signed with O’Brien International Car Sales to purchase used cars for the police force.

Reid resigned in March amid a slew of corruption allegations at a number of agencies that fall under the Education Ministry. Since then, the police have confirmed that he is the subject of a criminal investigation.

In July, the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions, in a legal opinion given to the Financial Investigations Division (FID), indicated that four criminal laws may have been breached by “key players” in the Ruel Reid-CMU corruption case.

The FID indicated at the time that the legal opinion contained some “excellent recommendations”.