Fri | Sep 17, 2021

NHF board Moves - Director's interest in Jamaica Moves kept secret from funding agency; Quits body a week before contract inked

Published:Sunday | July 26, 2020 | 12:00 AMJovan Johnson - Senior Staff Reporter

Lyndsey McDonnough did not tell her fellow board members of the National Health Fund (NHF) that she was co-owner of Market Me, the company they were giving millions in taxpayers’ money to implement the physical health campaign, Jamaica Moves.

The Sunday Gleaner has also learnt that McDonnough tendered her resignation with immediate effect as an NHF director on February 15, 2017, one week before the board approved $15 million for the initiative for which her company owned the rights.

These latest revelations add to the intrigue over how the Christopher Tufton-led Ministry of Health & Wellness handled Market Me’s 2016 unsolicited proposal to implement the campaign aimed at helping Jamaicans take steps to reduce risks of contracting non-communicable diseases.

Market Me was awarded over $54 million in Jamaica Moves contracts. The first leg cost $15.9 million, most of which came from the NHF, an agency that falls under Tufton’s oversight.

Recommended by Tufton

Cabinet, on Tufton’s recommendation, approved the appointment of McDonnough and eight others to the NHF board on April 1, 2016.

Just over three months later, on July 12, 2016, McDonnough’s company presented its proposal to the ministry which was based on the National Non-Communicable Disease Strategic Action Plan 2013-2018.

The ministry was sold on the idea and, as confirmed by Dunstan Bryan, permanent secretary, a submission was made to the National Contracts Commission (NCC) on November 28, 2016 for approval to directly contract Market Me rather than going to a competitive tender.

That submission, though, wasn’t among the cache of documents the ministry released on July 21, 2020, claiming it was giving “chronicles” of activities because of “heightened public discourse”.

The ministry’s justification was built on government procurement guidelines which outlined that an unsolicited proposal may be pursued if it demonstrates a unique concept, offers a service not available to Government or does not resemble the substance of recent, current or pending tenders.

The NCC gave its approval on December 2, 2016.

The health ministry signed the one-year NHF-funded contract in June 2017, two months after the formal launch of the campaign in April 2017. McDonnough was Market Me’s signatory.

Those details show that from McDonnough’s April 2016 board appointment to the July 2016 proposal meeting and her resignation two months before the official launch in April 2017, ministry officials, including Tufton, would have been aware that McDonnough was a board member of the funding agency.

DIDN’T DECLARE INTEREST

In a response to The Sunday Gleaner, the NHF confirmed that board minutes “do not reflect that McDonnough declared her interest prior to her resignation”.

It also noted that McDonnough submitted her resignation on February 15, 2017 and a week later, on February 22, 2017, the NHF board approved funding for Market Me’s campaign.

Like the Government’s corporate governance framework, NHF’s policy requires board members to disclose to the board and the health minister, any conflict of interest or potential conflict of interest which arises.

The entity’s 2017-2018 annual report said there was no disclosure that year but there was no similar inclusion in the report for the previous year which would have covered the Market Me contract.

“The grant request from the Ministry of Health for the Jamaica Moves programme made no mention of Market Me as the marketing consultant for this programme,” added the NHF’s response to The Sunday Gleaner provided on Friday by Shermaine Robotham, director, health promotions and public relations at the fund.

The NHF also confirmed that McDonnough’s last board meeting was on January 25, 2017, the final one before February’s approval.

Before the full board gave the green light, the ministry’s request would likely have been considered by the NHF’s finance and projects subcommittee which, based on its 2016-2017 annual report, comprised Paul Hanworth (chair) and Steven Sykes. 

The report also stated that Dr Dana Morris Dixon was a member of the committee, however, she joined the NHF board in March 2017 after the Market Me funding was approved.

Christopher Zacca was the NHF chairman at the time approval was granted to fund the Jamaica Moves campaign. However, he resigned shortly after and was replaced by Gregory Mair.

Neither Zacca nor Mair could be reached for a comment. A telephone call with Mair last Friday was abruptly cut midway and calls after went unanswered. WhatsApp text messages were also not answered.

PROCESS WAS IN PLACE

Elaine Foster-Allen, who served as permanent secretary in the health ministry from August 3, 2016 to December 2, 2016, said she was not aware that McDonnough was on NHF’s board, having joined well after the appointments. Her predecessor was Dr Kevin Harvey.

“The NHF board and the executive director would not be part of the evaluation or procurement committee. So, in truth and in fact, they would not know. The person who would know would be the person who sits on the board and who has made a submission,” said Foster-Allen.

By the time the matter was to go before the NCC for approval in November 2016, Foster-Allen said she was already on pre-retirement leave. She officially left on December 2 and was replaced by Sancia Bennett Templer, who’s now based at the justice ministry.

“The process was in place and if the process was in anyway circumvented, I really would be surprised,” said Foster-Allen, the head of the People’s National Party’s education commission.

The first Jamaica Moves contract ended in March 2018 and Dr Beverley Wright, who led the ministry’s team in the partnership with Market Me, is making it clear she had nothing to do with the selection process.

“I was presented with a programme which I thought was a good idea and I worked with the team and we implemented it,” she told The Sunday Gleaner.

But the senior technocrat, who acted as director of the health promotions and protection branch from January 2017 to February 2018, said she believed that Jamaica Moves’ first run was a “success” although she has concerns about its evaluation.

“They couldn’t come and force anything on us. We had to embrace it; we had to guide it and we had to implement it. It was just two people or three people. They had the idea and we had the workforce,” she said.

While a general assessment of the country’s situation was done before the roll-out of the campaign, a proper assessment must look at the targeted groups, like schools and workplaces, Dr Wright explained.

However, she said observed reduced consumption of sugary drinks and increased engagement in physical activities could be linked to Jamaica Moves, which has been endorsed by CARICOM leaders.

“I don’t think people are aware of the behaviour change that happened in this programme and I’m a little saddened that it has come to this,” added Dr Wright, the current director of health systems support and monitoring in the ministry.

CARIBBEAN MOVES

Regional leaders launched the Jamaica-inspired Caribbean Moves in September 2018.

At a meeting earlier this month, chief medical officers in CARICOM considered an update on the campaign’s implementation which started in March but whose roll-out has been frustrated by the COVID-19 pandemic, based on documents seen by this newspaper.

Ministry officials here, meanwhile, are spending this weekend briefing themselves in preparation for next week’s anticipated grilling from legislators.

Citing that planned Wednesday visit to Gordon House before Parliament’s Public Administration and Appropriations Committee, Permanent Secretary Bryan said he has ceased answering media queries on the issue.

CONCERNS ABOUT THE PROCESS

A former senior official in the ministry told The Sunday Gleaner that lawmakers must question the decision to avoid public tenders and demand answers on how Market Me came to own the intellectual property (IP) rights for Jamaica Moves’ name and logo although the contracts stipulated that all designs and plans were the property of the Government.

“There were concerns about the process. I can tell you that. But when some people talked, who is anyone to muster a response of likely greater wisdom?” said the official who requested anonymity.

Permanent Secretary Bryan said last week that he wrote to Market Me about the IP issue in 2019 and that the rights are expected to be transferred to the ministry next month free of cost.

In May 2019, the ministry wanted to extend Market Me’s contract, but the Public Procurement Commission (PPC) objected, on grounds that there was no evidence that value for money was achieved from the first contract and that the company had not met the minimum required score in the bid document.

Bryan led a ministry team that lobbied for a reversal on the basis that going to open market would have disrupted the Jamaica Moves campaign and there was a desire to maintain the “look and feel” of the programme.

The PPC reversed its decision after the ministry reduced the contract period from two years to one and associated costs.

However, the commission advised the ministry to put in place appropriate measures to ensure the project was put to tender before the contract period expired.

The renewed $38.9 million contract was signed on July 4, 2019 and expired in June. Market Me’s co-owner, Kristina Kerr, was the signatory.

The ministry has not published any evaluation or assessment of the two contracts.

Meanwhile, a review of the published documents last week showed that Market Me was paid more than $13 million in unrelated projects between March 7, 2017, and July 3, 2020. Approximately $2.6 million of that expenditure has not yet been accounted for.

The ministry did not release contract documents for several of the payment vouchers to Market Me.

The saga involving Tufton, and which is entering its third week, is the latest in a string of controversies afflicting the Andrew Holness administration.

Up to press time, Tufton did not answer a Sunday Gleaner question on whether he was receiving support from Market Me following his appointment to the portfolio in March 2016.

McDonnough has declined commenting on the contract saga, saying a statement will come from Market Me “at the appropriate time”.

jovan.johnson@gleanerjm.com

 

NHF BOARD: 2016- 2020

Gregory Mair (chairman; appointed February 2017); Cecile Watson; Paul Hanworth; Steven Sykes; Duke Holness (appointed 2017); Dr Tonoya Toyloy; Dr Dana Morris Dixon (appointed 2017); Dr Kamal Mars (appointed 2017); Dameon McNally (co-opted member 2016); Ian Murray (appointed 2018); Everton Anderson (CEO, NHF); Christopher Zacca (chairman; resigned February 2017); Brian George (deceased); Dr Shane Alexis (resigned 2017); Lyndsey McDonnough (resigned February 2017); Dr David Lowe.

NOTE: An earlier version of this story, quoting the NHF’s 2016-2017 annual report, said Dr Dana Morris Dixon was a member of the finance and projects subcommittee for the year in which funding was approved for Jamaica Moves. However, Morris has now indicated that she joined the NHF board in March 2017 and was therefore not on the committee at the time funding approval was granted for Jamaica Moves.