Wed | Dec 8, 2021

Probe widens into WHI conflicts of interest

Published:Tuesday | April 20, 2021 | 12:16 AM
Fayval Williams
Fayval Williams

Education Minister Fayval Williams has asked the Auditor General’s Department to expand a probe at the ministry following a Sunday Gleaner investigation highlighting potential conflicts of interest involving two multibillion-dollar programmes.

The investigation centred on Western Hospitality Institute (WHI), its president, Cecil Cornwall, and the two government programmes – the Career Advancement Programme and the Centre of Occupational Studies (COS).

Cornwall headed, since 2014, CAP’s oversight body known as the technical working committee and was the architect of occupational degrees and the driving force behind the July 2016 establishment of the COS.

Since 2015, Cornwall has been leading the Joint Committee on Tertiary Education (JCTE), which lobbies for tertiary institutions and which, up to last year, got millions in commission from the education ministry to help implement CAP and COS – programmes that targeted students who left grade 11 without qualifications.

Top beneficiary

For the last four years, Cornwall’s WHI was the top beneficiary in both programmes which are operated in dozens of tertiary and secondary institutions.

CAP and COS’s staff structure have also, over time, been revolving doors for WHI employees, including in 2019 when Jahraski Young left his job as WHI principal to take up the directorship at COS.

Cornwall has denied a conflict of interest.

In its Monday evening statement, the ministry said that in the wake of the Sunday Gleaner report, the education minister contacted Auditor General Pamela Monroe Ellis, who has been probing the ministry’s links with WHI and the JCTE.

“We must answer to public concerns,” Williams said, noting that the questions raised about CAP and COS require clarification and the ministry would “cooperate fully”.

“The full report that is expected from the auditor general will ensure the mandate of probity and accountability are maintained within the ministry,” she added.

The JCTE was the entity that shocked officials last year after it became private in February 2019 blocking the auditor general’s investigation into use of government funds connected to the Caribbean Maritime University scandal.

Ministry data show that for the period 2017-2020, the WHI ($158 million), MXP Catering ($60.5 million) and the JCTE ($59 million) accounted for almost 50 per cent of $594 million spent by the COS.

MXP shares the same address as WHI in St James and its proprietor Michael Foster was a project officer at JCTE and served as recruitment manager at WHI.

An analysis of a CAP disbursement report for 2014-2020 reveals that at least $2 billion was paid out to schools over the period, with WHI topping the list with $224 million, following by Institute of International Recognised Qualifications (IIRQ – $206 million).

The programmes fell under the direct oversight of then Chief Education Officer Dr Grace McLean (2009-2019) and incumbent Dr Kasan Troupe (2019–present), who ultimately reported to permanent secretaries Elaine Foster-Allen (2012-2015); Dr Maurice Smith (2015-2016) and Dean-Roy Bernard (2016-2019).

CAP was established in 2010 and has been under the ministry’s control since 2013.

McLean is now acting permanent secretary.