Opposition protests board appointment at Edna Manley College

Senior staff reporter

Wednesday, December 04, 2019

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KARL Samuda, the minister responsible for education, and Opposition spokesman Peter Bunting yesterday clashed in the House of Representatives over issues regarding the Edna Manley College for the Visual and Performing Arts (EMCVPA), including the board appointment of an individual who is facing allegations of sexual harassment in another State-run entity.

The board member, who is employed to the Tourism Product Development Company (TPDCo), was in January sent on administrative leave, along with his two accusers, while investigations into the allegations were carried out.

All three resumed duties a few weeks ago, head of TPDCo Dr Andrew Spencer told Parliament's Public Administration and Appropriations Committee (PAAC) last week.

Cabinet announced the approved directors for the new EMCVPA board — which included the TPDCo employee — in September, nine months after he was sent on leave by the tourism agency.

EMCVPA has been caught up in a hailstorm of controversy since a female student went public with allegations of sexual harassment against a male member of faculty earlier this year.

In a raft of questions regarding the college, Bunting asked the minister whether he was satisfied that all members of the board were suitably qualified, including being fit and proper, given the recent revelations at the PAAC of disciplinary action taken against the particular board member in his capacity as an employee at TPDCo.

Samuda insisted that he had ensured that due diligence was carried out, in accordance with the college's scheme order. Furthermore, he said, “The ministry has not received any formal information or evidence relating to the matters raised in the recent sitting of the PAAC regarding a member of the board.”

Bunting pointed out that the college is the region's most reputable arts institution, and that the issues affecting it therefore had broad implications. “What we are speaking about here is not an ordinary school; how we treat with this institution has regional implication in addition to national. This is negligence on your part because this is not something new I'm raising here. It was raised in a PAAC meeting and, given this whole furore about sexual harassment, I would've thought you would've been very careful to appoint directors who are beyond reproach,” he charged.

Samuda argued that the individual was still engaged at TPDCo “primarily because there was no evidence of guilt. We are not in the practice of ascribing guilt anecdotally”.

TPDCo's executive director told the PAAC that the charges were brought against the employee in November 2018, but that a number of issues had prolonged the hearing and disciplinary process.

He said that with the formal investigations completed the agency saw no reason to continue with the suspension and the employees, including the accused, had been recalled to work. He, however, indicated that the matter was not concluded, and is to be referred to the Attorney General's Chambers.

Meanwhile, the Opposition walked out of Parliament yesterday regarding statements made by the education minister over allegations of procurement breaches by the college's board, which Bunting said had been raised in a September 16 letter signed by heads of schools and departments at the college.

Samuda told Bunting to “come to the table with facts”, remarking, “if you are inviting me to influence the board in any way based on anecdotes provided by some little suss in a corner, you won't get it from me”. He said that issue had not been raised in any of his meetings with ECVPA management.

“I have to work with every one of those people who have signed that letter...I am not going to encourage destructive commentary...your objective is to undermine the integrity and stewardship of the board,” he stated.

The Opposition members walked out of the chamber in protest after Samuda refused to withdraw the statement.

According to the Opposition spokesman, the heads of departments, in a letter to the prime minister, said they had no confidence in the leadership of the chairman of the board of the college, and raised strong concerns regarding protocol and policy breaches, which they said had adversely affected the institution's operations and public image.

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