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‘Play-play’ bodyguard - CMU student paid as close-protection officer for Ruel Reid

Published:Wednesday | July 29, 2020 | 12:30 AMEdmond Campbell/Senior Parliamentary Reporter
Ruel Reid
Ruel Reid

A marine student from the Caribbean Maritime University (CMU) was among those assigned to provide close-protection services for then education minister Ruel Reid, even though the student had no special training in security.

The CMU student, normally dressed in full white and opening doors for the now-resigned minister, as well as saluting him, among other rituals, was recruited to offer “support to the minister” under a memorandum of understanding (MOU) between the education ministry and the university.

Close-protection officers were paid from a low of $30,000 to a high of $330,000 for their services. The director of school safety was also paid several instalments for security services, airfare, and payments for “travelling”, a special audit had revealed.

Dr Grace McLean, acting permanent secretary (PS), on Tuesday walked back information she initially provided to the auditor general that the former permanent secretary, Dean-Roy Bernard, approved payments for close-protection officers and logistics support to Reid.

“As it relates to the close-protection officer, I indicated to the auditor general that these arrangements would usually be approved by the permanent secretary. When I mentioned that statement, I genuinely meant that that is so, and I knew that the documentation was somewhere to be provided.”

“I am learning now that the arrangement was not approved,” said McLean.

However, she told the Public Accounts Committee of Parliament that she had an MOU dated January 10, 2018, which asked for support to the CMU for security and logistics services which was approved by the PS on January 11, 2018.

His note to me was “kindly develop MOU which would reflect these arrangements,” McLean said.

“I have the MOU signed by the PS and Fritz Pinnock authorising the support for the security and logistics services.”

McLean said that she utilised these documents to make the necessary arrangements. “So I would not have acted without approval from the permanent secretary as it relates to any arrangements.”

However, Bernard countered by saying that the arrangements that were put in place for additional security services to be provided by the CMU did not have his approval.

He described as “strange” security arrangements for a Cabinet minister being dealt with by an educational institution.

“This is a very odd situation,” PAC Chairman Mark Golding interjected.

“I could not have approved any such arrangement,” insisted Bernard.

Having served in a senior position in the Jamaica Constabulary Force for 12 years, Bernard said that close-protection services were provided by the force and were specially trained for the task.

Bernard said he had a discussion with an officer assigned to the ministry but the arrangement was for a meeting to be held with the head of the CPS branch.

“To indicate that a permanent secretary would have put his stamp of approval on this really downgrades my status in the public service,” he said.

Peter Bunting, committee member and former minister of national security, described the arrangement between the CMU and the minister as “very peculiar”.

Off-duty officers also provided close-protection services for Reid on weekends.

Bunting said that this particular arrangement with off-duty officers for weekend assignments might be in breach of the JCF’s policies. He said this should be reported to the Police Service Commission.

In her special audit of the CMU, Monroe Ellis reported that the university made payments totalling $2 million for close-protection services. The university’s records did not indicate the basis for these payments. The auditor general was later advised that the payments were for the provision of services to Reid on weekends.