Mon | Jan 17, 2022

MOCA, FID launch JCTE fraud probe

Published:Friday | October 15, 2021 | 12:10 AM
Grace McLean
Grace McLean
Dean-Roy Bernard
Dean-Roy Bernard

At least two elite anti-corruption bodies have been asked by Education Minister Fayval Williams to investigate $124 million paid to the Cecil Cornwall-chaired Joint Committee for Tertiary Education (JCTE) over a 32-month period by technocrats but which cannot be accounted for.

On Wednesday, treasurer of the JCTE, Philmore McCarthy, told The Gleaner that he was willing to open the books of the advisory committee to any investigative body, including the police, to facilitate the probe.

In a terse statement on Thursday, Williams revealed that she had referred the matter to the chief technical director of the Financial Investigation Division (FID) in a letter dated October 7, 2021.

This suggests that the education minister, who had sight of the report before it was tabled in Parliament on Tuesday, sent the missive to FID five days earlier.

On Thursday, Williams also wrote to director general of the Major Organised Crime & Anti-Corruption Agency (MOCA), Colonel Desmond Edwards, signalling that the ministry was available to provide any information needed in the probe.

She said that an acting commissioner of police has also been alerted to the auditor general’s report.

“The MoEYI remains fully committed to cooperating with the AuGD, FID, and MOCA to facilitate all necessary investigations in keeping with the principles of transparency and accountability,” Williams added.

In her special audit report to Parliament, Auditor General Pamela Monroe Ellis noted that the Financial Administration and Audit Act did not permit her to make reports directly to the police or a designated anti-corruption agency for an investigation to be carried out.

However, the auditor general “strongly” urged the education minister to call in the police to probe the loss of the funds.

In the wake of the JCTE scandal, acting Permanent Secretary Dr Grace McLean was sent on leave to allow for the investigative bodies to carry out their work unhindered.

Monroe Ellis said that at a meeting at her office on January 6, 2020, with Cornwall and McLean, the JCTE chairman told her that he had formed a private company called JCTE Limited in February 2019.

He argued that his company, JCTE Limited, replaced the Government’s special advisory committee (JCTE) and that he had no legal responsibility to provide the requested information to the auditor general.

In her probe, Monroe Ellis found that between February 2019 and June 2020, the education ministry, under the leadership of McLean, transferred sums totalling approximately $75.9 million to JCTE using its TRN.

The auditor general reasoned that based on Cornwall’s arguments, his private company would have obtained government funds under false pretence.

“If the ministry is accepting the position of the chairman that the ministry did business with a private entity, then this is a matter which must be further investigated to determine whether a fraud has been committed by a private institution using a TRN for a government institution to receive money under false pretences,” Monroe Ellis argued.

Further, despite being informed in January 2020 by the chairman that JCTE had become a private entity, McLean allowed transfers by the ministry to the committee amounting to $11.2 million between April and June 2020.