Mon | May 17, 2021

Harrow jumps ship as Gov't milks ODPEM cash cow

Published:Tuesday | May 4, 2021 | 12:29 AMErica Virtue/Senior Gleaner Writer
Leslie Harrow has quit as director general of the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management.
Leslie Harrow has quit as director general of the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management.

Six months after he assumed leadership of the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management (ODPEM), Director General Leslie Harrow has quit the relief organisation in apparent displeasure over interference by an overbearing local...

Six months after he assumed leadership of the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management (ODPEM), Director General Leslie Harrow has quit the relief organisation in apparent displeasure over interference by an overbearing local government ministry.

The Holness administration has been accused of silencing and emasculating ODPEM, with the local government ministry wielding executive power over the most rudimentary of matters.

ODPEM has historically been the lead agency in disaster-relief operations but insiders say that its independence has been eroded, with the director general being outmuscled in the redeployment of the agency’s resources.

Harrow spent his last day at the disaster management agency on Friday, days after informing the Joy Douglas-chaired board of his intention.

It is understood that Harrow was peeved that ODPEM had become a “financial trough for the ministry, paying more than $10 million over a one-year period for meetings”.

The disaster-relief agency is also reported to have borne advertisement and event-planning expenses that were not solely within its remit. Other agencies, The Gleaner understands, escaped budgetary commitments.

Today’s scheduled board retreat meeting seeking approval for more funds to pay for “four more town-hall meetings of the local government ministry was the straw that broke the camel’s back,” a well-placed government source told The Gleaner Monday night.

“He was sick and tired of the disrespect for his office. But everyone knows that he was not in agreement with the more than $10 million which ODPEM paid to host meetings for the local government ministry. There has been no discussion with the staff about the situation.”

Neither Harrow nor Local Government Minister Desmond McKenzie could be reached for comment late on Monday.

Harrow was seconded to ODPEM for six months with the intention for a longer tenure. It is uncertain if he will return to his substantive post at the EOJ.

Staffers say that the director general alluded to being disrespected by the local government ministry and abhorred the “bwoy” treatment meted out to him.

The Gleaner understands that last-ditch attempts were made by state functionaries to get Harrow to stay on but he was steadfast that he would not continue.

Staff were said to be aware of his displeasure at the organisation.

“They were very clear that there was overt and covert interference in the organisation. The autonomy the body had, for example, to issue press releases, conduct interviews, and be in the public space has been silenced for several months, because everything has to go through the local government ministry, which is the parent ministry so to speak,” the source said.

An industry operator said ODPEM would normally captain relief efforts locally and in other countries like disaster-hit St Vincent and the Grenadines, which has been covered in smoke and ash for weeks from La Soufriere volcano.

But the local government and tourism ministries have been at the helm of efforts to organise disaster relief and marshal recovery aid.

“We have been told that the ministry has muted ODPEM and it’s such a shame,” said the player, who requested anonymity.

Harrow began as a field officer at the EOJ and was later promoted to regional manager and zonal manager. His appointment as director general of ODPEM took effect on November 2.