Tue | Nov 30, 2021

Integrity Commission probes JCDC-Nairne gala contract

Published:Friday | March 26, 2021 | 12:19 AMJovan Johnson - Senior Staff Reporter

Trevor Nairne.
Trevor Nairne.

The Integrity Commission, Jamaica’s main anti-corruption watchdog, is probing a multimillion-dollar Independence Grand Gala contract as Culture Minister Olivia ‘Babsy’ Grange remains silent over a damning audit on the operations of the Jamaica Cultural Development Commission (JCDC).

Documents obtained by The Sunday Gleaner indicate that the Integrity Commission has served formal requisition orders for information and documentation relating to a $15-million contract for the services of Trevor Nairne.

The commission said it was probing allegations of conflict of interest in the award of the contract to Nairne for work on the 2016 Grand Gala, the crowning cultural event that marks Jamaica’s yearly anniversary of Independence.

Board officials and members of the JCDC have been requested to provide information to the commission, which, by law, is restricted from publicly revealing details on any probe it may be doing.

However, Nairne, an award-winning producer and director, has confirmed that the contract is the subject of a probe.

“There was correspondence and I suspect there will be follow-ups,” Nairne told The Gleaner, noting that he is yet to be formally interviewed by the commission’s investigators.

Concerns over Nairne’s contract came to the public’s attention on April 4, 2017, following a presentation in Parliament by then Opposition Spokesperson on Culture Lisa Hanna, who accused Grange of presiding over nepotism and corruption.

Hanna contended that the contract was awarded “lock, stock and barrel”, and that there was no negotiation on the amount proposed by Nairne to design costumes, choreograph performances and pay assistants – all of which, she said, could have been done by the JCDC.

Grange hit back, however, claiming that she was “not aware” of the details of Nairne’s $15-million contract, and accused Hanna of making “several erroneous statements and hurtful allegations”.

Grange disclosed that Lenford Salmon, one of her senior advisers, is a partner with Nairne in Jambiz International Limited and sought to address the “link” she said Hanna was trying to establish in the award of the contract.

“No one at the Ministry of Culture, Gender, Entertainment and Sport (including Salmon) had anything to do with the engagement of Nairne,” said Grange, who further said in a House statement that the JCDC did not have the specialised services needed to support the gala.

Fifty per cent ($7.5 million) of the contract amount was paid to Nairne on July 15, 2016 – the same day he submitted an invoice. The balance was paid in equal instalments on July 27 and August 28, according to a breakdown provided by the culture ministry.

The gala was held on August 6.

News that the Integrity Commission is investigating the contract comes as Grange continues to be silent about an internal audit about the poor state of affairs at the JCDC, which was revealed by The Sunday Gleaner.

Among the matters highlighted was the employment of Enid Harrow, Grange’s close associate, to a position which had duties already being performed by a staff member.

There were also concerns over contract payments before work completion, disregard for procurement processes, employment of contract workers without money in place, retired staff not getting their right pensions, a questionable $30-million transfer, among other things.

Harrow was contracted from December 1, 2018-May 31, 2019 and would have been paid $100,000 per month.

The audit manager, in the March 15, 2019 report to then interim Executive Director Daffodil Thompson, said concerns were raised that the JCDC already had a protocol and guest relations coordinator and hospitality officer performing the same work Harrow was contracted to do.

Sources also indicated that Grange was forced to reimburse the JCDC for money the audit said was used to pay for a $25,000 bandana dress for the 2018 Grand Gala at the National Stadium.

The JCDC’s only public response has been that the audit contained “inaccuracies”, which it is yet to point out despite promises to do so and subsequent multiple requests sent by The Gleaner for clarification.

At a December 9, 2020 post-Cabinet press briefing, Information Minister Fayval Williams said the JCDC was examining the audit report and that “in due course, there is every expectation that the minister responsible for the JCDC would make a fulsome report”, which is also yet to come.

That the JCDC has not had a permanent executive director since the death of Delroy Gordon in March 2017 has also fuelled disquiet and uncertainties.

“Everything is in limbo at the moment. Senior managers are yet to address staff as to the way forward,” said an employee this week of the anxieties faced by the workers. “The board seems to be running the organisation. The senior managers can’t say or do anything unless the board says so.”

A downsized board of 15 members, chaired by Mexine Bisasor, was appointed last year.