Newly-appointed Minister of State in the Ministry of Finance, Zavia Mayne has been implicated in a possible conflict of interest by the Integrity Commission in relation to the purchase of 200 acres of land at Caymanas Estate by the Factories Corporation of Jamaica (FCJ), from the Urban Corporation of Jamaica (UDC) in June, 2011.
The lands were being purchased under the Government’s Caymanas Economic Zone (CEZ) Project.
Mayne, an attorney-at-law and two-term Member of Parliament for St Ann South Western, is implicated alongside fellow attorney, Robert Ramsey.
Both men served on the Board of the FCJ at the time the Corporation was mandated to make the purchase and, according to the Commission, provided private attorney services to the FCJ in the amount of $26.4 million on the $900 million deal, while serving as directors. Of note is that their fees reportedly represented a discount on similar transactions.
According to the Commission’s report that was tabled in the Parliament on Tuesday, efforts to recover the money from Mayne and Ramsey, including a suit brought by the FCJ in the Supreme Court, failed.
Its Director of Investigations (DI) also “uncovered issues of conflict of interest and breaches of the Public Bodies Management and Accountability Act”.
By way of background, the Commission outlined that the decision to enter into the referenced agreement was as a result of Cabinet Decision 03/11, which accorded the development of the 200 acres of Caymanas lands ‘National Priority’ status and required that all the relevant state agencies facilitate its implementation with urgency.
It said that on April 1, 2011, the Board of Directors of the FCJ approved the appointment of Mayne and Ramsey as attorneys in the FCJ’s acquisition of the UDC-owned lands. It noted that the two men were also members of the CEZ Sub Committee at the time.
The DI pointed out that there was no evidence of any written contract or any other document detailing the terms of the agreement between FCJ and Mayne and Ramsey, regarding their engagement.
“Notwithstanding the foregoing, the DI concludes that an enforceable contract was formed between the parties based on the content of the letter dated September 4, 2012, the doctrine of Part Performance as well as payments made to Messrs. Mayne and Ramsey by the FCJ for services rendered,” the report said.
The DI also concluded that the nine FCJ Board Directors who were present at the meeting in which the decision was taken to appoint Mayne and Ramsay to facilitate the transaction “contravened Section 17(1) of the Public Bodies Management and Accountability Act in their failure to exercise due care, diligence and skill that a responsible and prudent person would exercise in comparable circumstances”.
The DI also found that the FCJ terminated the legal services of Mayne and Ramsey on September 4, 2012, prior to the completion of the acquisition of the land. Despite the termination, full payment of the $26.4 million fee was made.
The report also outlined the steps taken by the FCJ to recover the money when on December 19, 2014 it contracted the services of Linton Walters and Company to complete legal services for the CEZ land acquisition.
But, despite paying the law firm a $5 million retainer, neither was achieved and the FCJ eventually ended its efforts to retrieve the payments made to Ramsey and Mayne.
The Commission’s report noted that while the property was transferred to the FCJ on January, 28 2016, the UDC remains an unpaid vendor as the sum of $829,605,575.00 remains outstanding.
“The DI concludes that the appointment of Zavia Mayne and Robert Ramsey by the Newlyn ‘Neil’ Seaton-led FCJ Board was irregular, improper and constituted a conflict of interest. The DI’s conclusion is based on evidence which indicates that at the time of their appointment as private attorneys for the referenced project, Messrs. Mayne and Ramsey were both serving FCJ Board members,” the report said.
It has recommended that if not yet done, the FCJ should implement a policy which addresses conflict of interest, specifically at the Board level in keeping with the Public Bodies Management and Accountability Act.
Additionally, it said the FCJ should ensure that the policy provides clear and unequivocal prohibitions against conflict(s) of interest including formal disclosures and documentary evidence of recusals from deliberations, regarding any conflict of interest situation which may arise.
The Commission has also recommended that given the prevalence of conflicts of interests in Jamaica, and the detrimental impact they have on public confidence in government and good governance, Prime Minister Andrew Holness should commission a general review of this issue with a view to introducing legislation and/or regulations to clarify how these should be managed.
It said consideration should be given to the creation of a regime to facilitate the application/institution of pecuniary sanctions and/or forfeiture proceedings against officials who benefit from knowingly engaging in the practice.