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Head of Caribbean Maritime University denies allegations of misuse of funds

Senior staff reporter

Thursday, May 16, 2019

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PRESIDENT of the Caribbean Maritime University (CMU) Dr Fritz Pinnock yesterday denied allegations of misuse of funds by that institution in connection with non-portfolio activities involving dismissed Education Minister Ruel Reid.

The allegations surfaced in the media in the wake of Reid's forced resignation from the Cabinet over corruption allegations.

Facing the Public Administration and Appropriations Committee (PAAC) of Parliament yesterday, along with officials of the Education Ministry, the HEART Trust, and the Jamaica Foundation for Lifelong Learning, Dr Pinnock said, “I will state categorically that CMU did not host any birthday party for the minister. What you saw was an industry function that includes members of the tertiary sector that were there. The CMU does not pay for birthday parties.”

In March, Prime Minister Andrew Holness announced that he had asked Reid to resign, citing allegations in the public domain, and stating that the resignation would ensure that any investigation would not be impeded by his presence or oversight of the ministry.

The Opposition has since been demanding answers about the former minister's sudden dismissal. A probe is now under way by various investigative state bodies into activities at the ministry.

Yesterday, Permanent Secretary Dr Grace McLean told the PAAC that she has been questioned on several occasions by the Financial Investigations Division.

Meanwhile, Dr Pinnock defended the employment of former St Ann North Western Member of Parliament Othneil Lawrence to the CMU as an advisor on a $5.5-million contract. He insisted that Lawrence is not his personal adviser, but is employed to the university.Last April, the former education minister was endorsed by the governing Jamaica Labour Party as caretaker for the North Western St Ann seat.

Dr Pinnock explained that Lawrence was engaged specifically to target at-risk youth. “When we started with this programme under the CAP (Career Advancement Programme) in 2016 we found that we were using retired teachers who could not connect the youngsters, and people coming out of teachers' colleges could not connect with because there was a gap. When we evaluated the programme we found that we had some hard core challenges dealing with; what we are finding is that we have to now turn to politicians, entertainers, people involved in sports, and we have found results. So this is the basis on which Mr Othneil Lawrence was actually engaged,” he outlined.

Dr Pinnock said Lawrence had applied to the university in December in 2017, at a time when it was dealing with about 1,000 such young persons. “We needed a group of people to actually help us to coordinate… Mr Lawrence has always been in touch with the university, and has always recommended youngsters. He sent his CV (curriculum vitae) to CMU and after discussion we thought that maybe it was a good way to try him, based on the challenges we are facing, and it turned out to be a good decision,” he said, when asked by PAAC Chairman Dr Wykeham McNeill how Lawrence had become aware of the opening, given that it had not been advertised.

Meanwhile, the CMU head disclosed that discussions are under way for a name change to the Centre for Digital Innovation and Advanced Manufacturing which was opened at the university in November 2017 and named in honour of former minister of science, energy and technology, Dr Andrew Wheatley.

He defended the naming yesterday, suggesting that concern over the naming of the building after a minister who had the portfolio for only a year was misplaced. Dr Wheatley resigned amidst the Petrojam scandal last year.

“Sometimes we look at the wrong end of the game… I've been to universities where buildings have been named after animals,” Pinnock said, as he explained the rationale for the naming.

“You could not be seriously answering the questions like that; so you're saying there is nothing behind it?” the committee chairman interjected. “It is not the norm for active ministers to name things after themselves.”

Dr Pinnock said, despite the project spanning both administrations and receiving the support of several ministers of both Governments, Dr Wheatley had lent the most support.

The permanent secretary in the ministry explained that the usual policy for the renaming of a building was that a Cabinet submission be made, following stakeholder consultation, but that in instances where it is only a section of an institution which is affected, its board has the authority to undertake approval.

Dr Pinnock insisted that there was consultation on the naming of the centre, and has been asked to provide a list of the stakeholders with whom these consultations were held.

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