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PNP steps up pressure on Gov't over education ministry scandal

Senior staff reporter

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

ALLEGATIONS of corruption in the Ministry of Education, which resulted in the firing of portfolio Minister Ruel Reid by Prime Minister Andrew Holness last week, have elicited a fresh salvo of questions from Opposition spokesman on education Ronald Thwaites and his People's National Party (PNP) colleagues.

Thwaites is urging the prime minister to provide the nation with answers when the House of Representatives meets today, instead of having the Opposition table questions.

“We are considering doing that, but we shouldn't have to,” he told the Jamaica Observer following a press conference at PNP headquarters yesterday. “The prime minister needs to get up tomorrow and make a full statement, then there would be questions to him as the parliamentary rules provide. Let's just get this over with; we have some systemic deep problems in education,” he said.

Last week Holness announced Reid's forced resignation from the Cabinet, citing allegations in the public domain and stating that Reid's departure would ensure that any investigation would not be impeded by his presence or oversight of the ministry.

Holness later told the Parliament that Government was serious about dealing with “allegations of corruption, malfeasance, maladministration”, when pressured for details by the Opposition.

Yesterday, most of the Opposition's questions centred around Reid's relationship with Caribbean Maritime University (CMU), one of three entities named in the corruption scandal.

Thwaites said he wanted to make it clear that his aim was not to accuse or find anyone guilty, stating: “We believe that education has to be above the political fray…we have no aspersions and no guilt to ascribe. What we have to do is in the interest of the systemic transformation of education, and it's proper [to] ask the questions that need to be answered now and conclusively.”

At the same time, chairman of the PNP's Education Commission Elaine Foster Allen — a former permanent secretary in the education ministry — inquired: “Has the CMU hosted any birthday or appreciation parties for the former Minister Ruel Reid or any other senior official of the Ministry of Education between 2017 and now, and if so, what were the costs of these parties and who paid for them? Are any relatives of the former minister on staff at the CMU? When were the persons hired, and what are the qualifications for the positions? Are any personal staff members of the former minister paid by the CMU or any entity associated with the CMU?”

Foster Allen also asked that the Government discloses the number of consultants or advisors engaged by the university, their responsibilities and salaries. Furthermore, the Opposition is seeking clarity on the specific tasks assigned to former Jamaica Labour Party Member of Parliament Othneil Lawrence as an advisor to CMU President Dr Fritz Pinnock, and whether his engagement at the same time as Reid's announced candidacy for the St Ann North Western seat was a coincidence.

Manchester Southern MP Michael Stewart, a former Jamaica Teachers' Association president, said the scandal was unprecedented and had damaged the education ministry.

“This is the first time we are seeing where the Ministry of Education has been caught in this conundrum. The ministry has been damaged significantly and there is going to be need for some restoration of hope,” he stated.

Stewart said stakeholders across the sector have been deeply affected, with great distress expressed by teachers, students and parents in light of the upcoming second sitting of the Primary Exit Profile (PEP) examination.

He said there are now questions about whether personal staff members of the former minister were paid by the CMU or any entity associated with the university, and whether the manager for donor relationships at the National Education Trust had been contracted to both the ministry and the CMU simultaneously. He also questioned if procurement guidelines were followed for contracts awarded to the CMU for the refurbishment of a number of schools, and also if CMU resources were diverted to support construction of a home for an official at the university.

Dr Pinnock, on the weekend, denied allegations that he was chairman of the Ruel Reid Foundation.

The Opposition has also raised questions regarding the recruitment of persons to various agencies of the ministry during Reid's tenure, and whether the Government will continue to honour these contracts.

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