Mon | Mar 20, 2023


Senior public servant at centre of board-contract-extension saga gets outstanding salary, contract issue still unresolved

Published:Sunday | March 19, 2023 | 1:30 AMJovan Johnson - Senior Staff Reporter
Valerie Veira, chief executive officer of the JBDC
Valerie Veira, chief executive officer of the JBDC

Jamaica Business Development Corporation (JBDC) boss Valerie Veira, who is in a contract-extension dispute with the board of the government company, has received salaries outstanding for at least five months.

Veira’s industrial relations consultant Vincent Morrison said the payment was confirmed last week.

“The matter is still being discussed and we have some dates to be confirmed to continue the discussion,” he told The Sunday Gleaner yesterday when asked about the outcome of a meeting over the contract situation involving JBDC board chairman Stephanie Sterling and other officials of the Ministry of Industry, Investment and Commerce.

The board has been under scrutiny over whether it was pressured after swinging, within a five-day period in 2022, from approving a two-year contract for the long-time chief executive officer to cutting the time to one year.

Veira’s contract was due to end on October 4, 2022.

It remains unclear what prompted the board chairman, who is also an attorney-at-law, to call a special meeting for October 3, 2022, just five days after the initial decision.

Sterling and the ministry say they cannot discuss the issue.

Veira is insisting that she submitted a signed two-year contract to the chairman. She said that was based on a request of the chairman on September 28 during their meeting to agreed terms in line with the board’s decision earlier that day.

That contract has not been signed and Veira said she got an amended document on November 1, with a one-year extension.

Veira wrote to Sterling questioning, among other things, whether it was appropriate for the decision on an alternative contract “with a substantial amendment” to be finalised without discussion and agreement by both parties, and that given contract and Jamaica’s labour laws, she had started a two-year contract on October 5 “even if you have not signed that contract which you instructed me to prepare”.

The industrial relations consultant wrote Sterling a letter dated February 24, 2023 in which he questioned why the contract was not signed, as well as highlighting that his client was not paid since October 4.

Sterling later wrote JBDC’s deputy CEO, Harold Davis, saying she was not aware of the non-payment issue and indicated that although a new contract was being negotiated, “in the interim, the CEO should be paid on a monthly basis at the salary under her previous contract”.

Minister Aubyn Hill disclosed on March 11 that the ministry was seeking advice from the solicitor general on the matter, an issue discussed at a brief JBDC board meeting on Friday.

“So, no comment,” Hill said, when asked by The Sunday Gleaner whether he retained confidence in the board to handle the issue and if he played any role in the board’s deliberations. The minister appointed the board.

The opinion is expected to address things such as whether the ministry can reject a board decision.

The JBDC, a limited liability company fully owned by the Government, was established in 2001 as the premier state agency providing support services such as research, product development and capacity building, to micro, small and medium-sized enterprises.

Veira, a University of the West Indies and Harvard University graduate, has been working in the public sector for over 40 years, including being head of JBDC since its inception.