Fri | Sep 22, 2023

FCJ's engagement of Zavia Mayne, Robert Ramsey raises conflict of interest concerns

Published:Wednesday | May 31, 2023 | 2:51 PM
The investigation was triggered by allegations of impropriety, irregularities and conflict of interest at FCJ.  - File photo

A contract between Factories Corporation of Jamaica (FCJ) and then board members Zavia Mayne and Robert Ramsey for a $900-million land acquisition at Caymanas Estate in St Catherine was “irregular, improper and constituted a conflict of interest”, the Integrity Commission has concluded. 

Mayne, who was recently appointed state minister in the Ministry of Finance and the Public Service, and Ramsey were paid $26,437,500, for private legal services rendered in relation to the FCJ's acquisition of the 200 acres of land at Caymanas Estate under the Caymanas Economic Zone Project. 

Mayne and Ramsey were appointed board members in February 2010. The former served until February 2012, while Ramsey served until September 2011. 

The men were appointed as FCJ attorneys for the project in April 2011, but there were no formal contracts in place. 

The attorneys' services were terminated before the acquisition of the land despite being paid in full, the commission's director of investigations Kevon Stephenson said in a 52-page investigative report tabled in Parliament on Tuesday. 

The investigation was triggered by allegations of impropriety, irregularities and conflict of interest at FCJ. 

Stephenson said the FCJ contracted the services of Linton Walters and Company to complete legal services for the Caymanas Economic Zone land acquisition, and to recover the funds that were paid to Mayne and Ramsey. 

Stephenson said that up to February 2, the FCJ's acquisition of land under the Caymanas Economic Zone Project remains incomplete.  

The property was transferred to the FCJ on January 28, 2016, however the Urban Development Corporation remains an unpaid vendor as the sum of $829,605,575 is outstanding, Stephenson said. 

Further, he said the FCJ directors who were present at the meeting in which the decision was taken to appoint Mayne and Ramsey — Newlyn Neil Seaton, Derek Cross, Mark Hall, Tanikie McClarthy, Ramsey, Beverly Rose-Forbes, Donald Smith, Horace Sutherland and Beverley Williamson — contravened Section 17(1) of the Public Bodies Management and Accountability Act in their “failure to exercise due care, diligence and skill that a responsible and prudent person would exercise in comparable circumstances”.  

Stephenson said that this was based on the fact that the directors mentioned the wider FCJ board, failed, at the material time, to develop and/or enforce a written retainer agreement in respect of the legal services provided by the two men; terms of reference for them; and a monitoring mechanism to ensure that the contract was performed as agreed. 

Stephenson has recommended, among other things, that Prime Minister Andrew Holness commission a general review of conflicts of interests in the country, and the detrimental impact they have on public confidence in the Government and good governance “with a view to introducing legislation and/or regulations to clarify how these should be managed”. 

He also recommended that Holness consider the creation of a regime to facilitate the application or institution of pecuniary sanctions and/or forfeiture proceedings against officials who benefit from knowingly being involved in situations where there is a conflict of interest. 

Added to that, Stephenson said despite the limitation period imposed under Section 20(2) of the Financial Administration and Audit Act, in relation to the institution of surcharge proceedings (not more than three years from date of occurrence), he is recommending that the permanent secretary implement mechanisms to prevent the misuse of public resources and to immediately commission an audit into the financial affairs and governance arrangements of the FCJ. 

- Kimone Francis

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