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BIG SPENDERS

CMU admits to making cheques to Ruel Reid's driver and spending $29 million on catering over one year

BY ARTHUR HALL
Editor-at-Large
halla@jamaicaobserver.com

Thursday, July 18, 2019

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THE Caribbean Maritime University (CMU) has admitted that it prepared cheques valued at more than $700,000 to a former driver of discarded Education Minister Ruel Reid.

But, contrary to reports which surfaced in the sitting of Parliament's Public Administration and Appropriations Committee (PAAC) last week, the CMU says the former driver, Devon McQueen, was paid for transport services and not catering.

And while the CMU has said it did not employ McQueen as a caterer, it also admitted that it spent $29.6 million on catering services for 481 participants in its CAP (Career Advancement Programme) and CAP YES (Youth Employment Solution) programmes over one year.

Of the 481 participants only 251 or 52 per cent completed the course.

In a written response to questions posed by the PAAC, the CMU said McQueen was paid $330,000 in January 2018, $30,000 in February, an additional $30,000 in March and a further $330,000 in April.

However, the CMU said it could not provide details of the transportation services because “documentation in relation to the payments is with the Financial Investigation Division”.

The CMU also confirmed that McQueen was employed by the Ministry of Education as Reid's driver for the period March 10, 2016 to March 9, 2018.

“Mr Devon McQueen was on secondment from Jamaica College to the education ministry during the period,” said the CMU in its response, which was tabled during yesterday's sitting of the PAAC.

In radio interviews last week, McQueen had rejected the claim that he had any association with the CMU and said the first time he heard about the contract with the university was when investigators showed up at his house asking him questions.

He said the investigators took him to their offices and asked him a barrage of questions in relation to CMU invoices done in his name.

Two other persons who were employed to Reid have also been linked to CMU contracts and payments with a household helper, Doreen Miller, claiming that she was instructed to open a bank account to which she did not have access and which she did not benefit from.

In the meantime, the CMU has admitted that it covered the cost of a visit to the United States for the launch of the Education and Health Foundation by its president Professor Fritz Pinnock and its vice-president Eron McLean in May 2018.

But the university said this was officially a visit to the Diaspora Conference in Florida and the launch of the foundation was understood to be a part of the proceedings.

“And as is the norm the team used the opportunity to network and hold meetings with entities to derive partnerships for the university,” said the CMU, without disclosing how much was spent.

The CMU is now the subject of a major fraud probe being led by the Financial Investigation Division, with Pinnock having embarked on a leave of absence to “ensure transparency and retain the integrity of the university”.


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