Consultancy firm says CMU still owes it money

Consultancy firm says CMU still owes it money

Senior staff reporter

Thursday, July 02, 2020

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OPTIMUM Customer Service Consultancy has rejected a request from the CMU to provide answers in relation to activities under the Career Advancement Programme (CAP) — Youth Empowerment Services (YES), which the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) has been digging into over the past few months.

The probe into the contractual arrangements for CAP-YES, forms part of deliberations on the auditor general's special report on the CMU's governance and resource management which has been before Parliament since the end of last year.

The PAC has been scrutinising arrangements for the provision of lunches to participants in the programme and in particular multimillion-dollar payments to a number of suppliers which the CMU has indicated were recommended by Optimum.

According to the report, CMU paid an aggregate $46.7 million to 15 lunch suppliers between January and December 2018, under the CAP-YES and the Technology Advancement Programme (TAP), without a competitive tender process, and was unable to indicate the basis on which the providers were selected.

On June 24 this year, deputy president of the CMU Professor Ibrahim Ajaguna e-mailed the managing director of Optimum, Joseph Martin, asking for information on the number of participants under the Learning Readiness Intervention (LRI) component of CAP-YES; where the programmes were delivered; a list of the names of the beneficiaries; the number of programmes that were ran in 2018; and the number of students that enrolled in and completed each cohort of the programme.

In response, Martin said: “I would suggest that the institutions records are scrutinised for further details and information. I am unable to provide further support on this matter as Optimum Customer Service consultancy has no dealings whatsoever with a CAP-YES Learning readiness intervention. I request that you cease and desist all further communication regarding Optimums alleged involvement with the LRI linked to the CAP-YES programme.”

According to the company, the CMU still owes it money for services provided for a business process outsourcing customer engagement project, a Citizenship Security and Justice Programme (CSJP) training for at-risk youth projec, and the Technology Advancement Programme project.

“There remains to this day outstanding invoices which are yet to be addressed by CMU. I would appreciate your cooperation in resolving payments related to work carried out for CMU... I look forward to hearing from you regarding the invoices,” the Optimum managing director said.

In a previous letter, dated June 15, addressed to Gordon House regarding the auditor general's report, Optimum alluded to being involved in the execution of the CAP-YES LRI. Martin outlined that under a memorandum of understanding on March 13, 2018, the company entered into a partnership with the CMU to deliver selective courses which would be certified by the CMU. “Any Optimum course for which CMU certification is desired, must first be approved by CMU,” the correspondence said.

Under the profit-sharing arrangement the university would receive 30 per cent of the tuition paid by each participant, but according to the company, up to June 2020, “no such course has been submitted to CMU for review/approval”.

Martin said the LRIs delivered by Optimum, as a community outreach initiative on behalf of the university, was a “goodwill gesture to the young people of Jamaica”. He explained that the objective of the initiative was to serve as a bridging programme for people who wanted future entry into a CMU core course or programme and needed to improve their basic academic skills.

“The LRI participants were not required to pay any fee at all. CMU committed to providing nutritional and learning resource support for participants. The lunch suppliers suggested by CMU were paid directly by CMU, Optimum was not entitled to, and received absolutely no payment for delivering the LRI,” Martin insisted.

Manchester Central Member of Parliament Peter Bunting argued at Tuesday's meeting that this supposedly “free” programme delivered by Optimum had cost the CMU tens of millions for lunches. “It would be funny if it wasn't such a scandalous demonstration of what happens when no regard is given to the procurement guidelines and people spend taxpayers money as if its their own,” he said.

Bunting also accused the Opposition PAC members of blocking efforts to have Martin appear via teleconference, stating that the members had “continued to put obstacles in the way of this committee getting to the bottom of this CMU scandal”, after the committee failed to obtain enough votes to go ahead with the virtual testimony.

In its updated submission to the PAC, the CMU presented conflicting figures for the number of participants under the CAP-YES (LRI), and said it could not find any hard evidence to support either figure, such as names and attendance registers. The CMU says according to information from a report it had submitted to the Financial Investigations Divisions, 601 persons participated in the programme.

At the same time, the university's deputy president noted that information previously obtained from Optimum showed that there were 491 participants. The university also admitted that it could not find the supporting evidence to verify the parishes and areas where the programmes were run, nor access supporting documents from lunch suppliers to justify payments for lunches.

He added that “I am now checking my records to ascertain whether the names put forward correspond with my information” regarding the seven lunch suppliers that the PAC is enquiring about and “that Optimum may have recommended”.

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