HEART boss’ contract not extended after salary hike spree
Permanent secretary in the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM), Audrey Sewell, has revealed that the contract of the former managing director of HEART/NSTA Trust, Janet Dyer, was not renewed because she approved salary hikes to senior personnel without first getting clearance from the Ministry of Finance and the Public Service.
The revelation came on Wednesday as the OPM and senior executives from the HEART/NSTA Trust appeared before the Public Administration and Appropriations Committee (PAAC) of Parliament.
The committee was told that although the increases were in breach of government guidelines, it later received the imprimatur from the finance ministry, which stated, “Based on the circumstances detailed, to prevent any negative impact on the staff at the Trust and in an effort to maintain industrial harmony ... [the ministry] offers no objection to the salaries implemented with effect from April 1, 2020, for the staff of the merged entities”.
Asked if steps would be made to recover the excess sums paid, Sewell said that the salaries would be regularised over time.
While admitting that the senior personnel at HEART/NSTA Trust were being paid outside of the approved salary scale, the permanent secretary said that going forward, increases would be granted to these persons at a lower rate than their counterparts elsewhere in the public sector.
PricewaterhouseCoopers was engaged to carry out an organisational review as a result of the merger of HEART/NSTA Trust, the National Youth Service, the Jamaican Foundation for Lifelong Learning, and the Apprenticeship Board.
The company completed its review of the entity and sent it to the Ministry of Finance for it to classify the jobs. The process was completed by the finance ministry for the top-tier leadership and returned to HEART/NSTA Trust.
Sewell told committee members that the former chairman of the board, Edward Gabbidon, had informed her that the entity did not implement the salary scale that was approved by the Ministry of Finance.
She said when the matter was brought to the attention of the then managing director, “she did not take responsibility,” and Prime Minister Andrew Holness, who is the portfolio minister, was asked to intervene.
“We considered it very, very serious for an agency to go off on its own to increase salary. That’s a no-no.”
The permanent secretary said she had never had to deal with a matter like that during her many years of service in government.
The prime minister reportedly convened a meeting with the then chairman of the board and other senior officials, including Dyer. It is alleged that Dyer admitted to the prime minister that she authorised the salary increases.
“She said in the meeting, ‘I take responsibility. I authorised it,’” Sewell recounted.
According to Sewell, Holness told the board chairman to address the issue because it constituted a major breach.
“It is one of the reasons that her contract was not renewed. That is what I was informed by the board,” Sewell said.
Fitz Jackson, committee member, said the managing director alone should not bear all the responsibility for a breach that other senior officials at the agency might have been aware of but did nothing.