As leaked snippets of the special Auditor General’s report have been making the rounds on Twitter, Jamaicans have been forced to come to grips with another one, the Caribbean Maritime University (CMU) Scandal Edition. However, how did we get here, who are the major players involved and what do we know today.
How did we get here?
Nationwide News Network Senior reporter, Abka Fitz-Henley broke the news in March 2019 that then Minister of Education, Youth and Information Ruel Reid was being sacked from the Andrew Holness led Cabinet. At the time of that reporting, it was not clear what the reasons for his sacking were. However, what was revealed in a bombshell series of news reports was an alleged clandestine operation involving Reid and the CMU boss Fritz Pinnock that saw millions of dollars disappearing over the two-year period since Reid was minister. The opposition demanded answers with the Manchester Southern MP Michael Stewart, a former Jamaica Teachers' Association president remarking that this issue severely damaged both the Ministry and the CMU. He further commented that “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,” In response to mounting pressure from the opposition, civil society groups, anti-corruption watchdog National Integrity Action and the general public the Prime Minister announced a multi-agency probe of the university with the Financial Investigation Bureau and the Auditor General being the lead investigators.
What do we know now?
Fast forward to January 2020 and the report of the Auditor General’s report has now been tabled before the House of Representative. Its tabling has set off maelstrom of criticism, ridicule and anger by users of Social Media and the general public. With many persons left to contemplate, another one especially, considering, the PetroJam debacle that engulfed the administration in 2018. According to the report, the allegations of malfeasance include:
1. The transfer of 145 million to the Jamaica Maritime Institute Trust Fund between 2016 and 2019 which were claimed to be for staff salaries. The auditor general noted that this was a curious occurrence and represented a breakdown in Transparency as
the transfer was made from a CMU account to a non-CMU account.
2. $17.6 million of unaccounted for money that was paid to a company. $7.3 million of which came from the CMU’s canteen account.
3. $674.930 which was paid by the university was used to cover the cost of a birthday party for the then minister and were labelled as meetings/seminars and marketing initiatives with no attendant receipts to support it.
4. The CMU boss submitted reimbursement forms for $546, 153.84 for a trip to Cuba. The auditor general expressed bewilderment over the need for reimbursement considering that the ministry officials and Pinnock were provided with US$6,580 to cover accommodation. Per diem and incidentals. Furthermore, after the publishing of the AG’s preliminary report, Mr. Pinnock reportedly rushed to pay back in excess of US$4,000.
5. The CMU president was reimbursed for fixed assets totalling $12,697.41 which was claimed to be expenditure for the university which included a Bailey’s Rum Cream, cufflink, bracelets, sunglasses, colognes, an apple watch, two laptops, and a cellular phone. According to AG Pamela Monroe-Ellis, the items cited were noted in the university’s fixed assets register nor was it presented for inspection to her team.
6. The university has been unable to provide documentation to account for US$ 117,785.03 or JMD16,018,764.08(at today’s exchange rate) between March 2016 and December 2019.
7. Pinnock's 2016 International Socrates Award for industry leaders in developing countries is considered a 'made-up honor' and cost US$10,000 (J$1.3 million), an amount reimbursed to Pinnock. The terms and conditions of the award required that, upon acceptance, recipients make payments to cover administrative costs and a five year licence to use the award brand for public relations and marketing purposes. The award was received from an organization that is steeply rooted in corruption. Once an awardee has paid the cost of the award, they have gotten the award.
Many believes that this including other series of allegations have severely diminished public confidence in the Holness government. They want to see the legal and judicial system deal with this case as any other criminal case where all the evidence been presented and prosecution handed down if parties involve are found guilty.