McLean sent on leave as AG calls for police probe into questionable $124m paymentWednesday, October 13, 2021
KINGSTON, Jamaica – Dr Grace McLean, the under pressure acting permanent secretary in the Ministry of Education, Youth and Information, has been sent on leave.
The development comes less than 24 hours after a recommendation by Auditor General, Pamela Monroe Ellis, that McLean and the former permanent secretary in the education ministry, Deanroy Bernard, be hit with surcharge action by the Ministry of Finance and Public Service.
The two have found themselves at the centre of a controversial $124 million payment of taxpayer funds to the Cecil Cornwall-chaired Joint Committee on Tertiary Education (JCTE). They have both been flagged by the AG, as failing in their fiduciary responsibilities.
The AG's findings are contained in a special report which was tabled in the House of Representatives on Tuesday. In the report, Monroe-Ellis recommended that Education Minister Fayval Williams call in the police or a designated anti-corruption body to investigate the matter. The AG suggested that fraud could be involved as her efforts to get comments from the JCTE during the course of her investigations were stymied after she was told that the entity had gone private and not obligated to answer her questions.
Yet, after supposedly going private, JCTE continued to receive millions from the government, including $11 million that was authorised by McLean.
In her special probe into the JCTE, the auditor general noted that on January 4, 2017, Bernard wrote to the commissioner general of Tax Administration Jamaica requesting a taxpayer registered number (TRN) for JCTE. The number, which was granted the following month, allowed for the direct transfer of funds from the education ministry to the JCTE.
Once in receipt of the TRN, the JCTE presented its banking information to the HEART/NSTA Trust for a current account held in the name of JCTE at a commercial bank. Subsequent payments to the JCTE from HEART/NSTA Trust and the ministry were made to this account.
However, while payments were being made, questions were raised about the JCTE's role. Following information provided by the University Council of Jamaica (UCJ), Bernard held a meeting on June 26, 2017 with JCTE executives and the UCJ to seek clarity on the role of JCTE. This was six months after Bernard facilitated the issuance of a TRN to JCTE.
According to Monroe-Ellis, the executive director of the UCJ indicated that based on the June 26, 2017, meeting with Bernard, the council took a decision at a meeting that same month to “maintain an arm's length relationship with JCTE”.
The AG highlighted that based on the HEART/NSTA's financial records, $75 million was transferred to JCTE between September 2017 and September 2018 to train 250 students in the Occupational Associate Degree (OAD) programme.
Monroe-Ellis pointed out that the decision to transfer the funds was questionable given that the project charter gave management responsibility for the programme to the ministry via the Centre of Occupational Studies (COS).
And the AG said the HEART/NSTA Trust has not confirmed whether the $75 million was utilised to provide funds to COS in the ministry as stipulated in the project charter.
McLean reportedly said that the ministry did not receive any funds from JCTE.
A meeting was held on January 6, 2020 at the office of the auditor general which involved Cornwall and McLean. At that meeting Cornwall told Monroe Ellis that he had formed a private company called JCTE Limited in February 2019.
According to Cornwall, JCTE Limited had replaced the Government's special advisory committee (JCTE). He argued that on that basis he had no legal responsibility to provide the requested information to the auditor general.
Despite that development, Monroe Ellis found that between February 2019 and June 2020, the education ministry, with McLean as acting permanent secretary, transferred nearly $76 million to the JCTE using the same TRN it had obtained through Bernard.
The AG pointed out that based on Cornwall's arguments, his private company would have obtained government funds under false pretence.
“If the ministry is accepting the position of the chairman that the ministry did business with a private entity, then this is a matter which must be further investigated to determine whether a fraud has been committed by a private institution using a TRN for a government institution to receive money under false pretences,” the AG stated.
Additionally, the AG said that despite being informed in January 2020 by the chairman that JCTE had become a private entity, McLean allowed transfers by the ministry to the committee amounting to $11.2 million between April and June 2020.