Ahead of PAAC meeting, chairman insists USF transparent in hiring practices

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

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CHAIRMAN of the Universal Service Fund (USF) Robert Lawrence has sought to clarify claims in relation to nepotism and cronyism at the State-run technology agency, insisting that the USF adheres to a transparent process in the filling of all permanent positions.

Lawrence and his team are scheduled to appear before Parliament's Public Administration and Appropriations Committee (PAAC) today to answer questions about the agency's operations.

In a statement issued yesterday following a media report in which he admitted that the USF Chief Executive Officer Camille Buchanan had hired her daughter, and that it was a bad judgement call, despite Buchanan seeking advice, Lawrence dismissed claims that have been made in the public domain about the employment process after the revelation that Suzette Buchanan had assisted the agency with its social media presence for over a year.

“In clarifying, Mr Lawrence said the agency's human resource policy does not prohibit the hiring of relatives of employees, but rather states that in the hiring of permanent employees, 'sound business judgement must be made'. He added that while the policy is silent on temporary engagements, having the daughter of the CEO engaged to provide any type of service to the organisation could be construed as 'not the best exercise of judgement',” the release said.

According to Lawrence, having been made aware of a possible issue with the engagement of her daughter, Buchanan discontinued the arrangement and advised the board, which “appropriately addressed the matter”.

“I have always operated with the utmost integrity and transparency. Now that we are clear on that policy I will work alongside management to ensure there is no recurrence of such incidents within the organisation,” the USF said Buchanan had declared.

She is said to have explained that, at the time of hiring her daughter, “the agency did not have a strong social media presence. Her focus was on raising awareness of the entity to help extend its reach”.

Lawrence further explained that the USF has 17 permanent employees, which does not include a dedicated staff member to manage its social media accounts. He said the agency has applied to the Ministry of Finance for the approval of additional permanent positions to better enable the entity to meet its expanded mandate under the amended Telecommunications Act. He said, too, that among the proposed positions is that of a communication officer, with responsibility for the USF's social media presence.

According to the statement, the USF CEO said her daughter initially provided services at no cost, after which an arrangement was put in place.

“She was engaged for the short term, performing entry-level tasks and was not on staff. As such, she received no benefits or allowances. In May, she advised in writing that she would no longer be able to provide her services, and as such, the arrangement was discontinued,” Buchanan is reported to have said.

Lawrence said with the strides that the USF has made under the current CEO and her proven track record of performance, a dismissal would have been too drastic a penalty.

“As a former board member and CEO of Caymanas Track, she had stewardship of over 400 employees and managed billions in annual revenue. That experience, coupled with her business acumen and marketing skills, made her a natural fit for the organisation,” the chairman said.

He added that Buchanan excelled during the interview process and continues to demonstrate astute leadership.

“The position was advertised and following a competitive interview process, the best candidate was chosen by a panel and so far the board is satisfied with her work,” he said.

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