Fall from grace
Acting permanent secretary on interdiction as probe into $124-million allocation to JCTE continuesFriday, January 21, 2022
BY ALPHEA SUMNER
THERE are more woes for the chief accountable officer in the education ministry, Dr Grace McLean, with Thursday's news of her interdiction in the matter involving the loss of $124 million in public funds to the Jamaica Council for Tertiary Education (JCTE), between August 2017 and June 2020.
The decision was handed down by the Public Services Commission.
McLean is one of two senior public officers implicated in the matter after a special audit of the JCTE, carried out by Auditor General Pamela Monroe Ellis. The other individual is former acting Permanent Secretary Dean-Roy Bernard, who is now employed to the finance ministry.
Confirming the development, Robert Morgan, the minister with responsibility for information, told the Jamaica Observer, “It means that until the investigations are completed we will not be engaged with her position. Based on the correspondence they will have to discuss whether she will get half-pay, quarter-pay, or whatever level of pay she will get.”
Morgan, at the same time, reiterated that the investigative process regarding Monroe Ellis's recommendation for a surcharge to be imposed on the two officers is still underway. He stressed that what Minister Fayval Williams had indicated a couple weeks ago at a press briefing was that “surcharge action” had taken place, not that the actual penalty had been applied.
“The actions that took place was the letters from the Ministry of Finance, which were sent to the Ministry of Education, which was then sent to Dr McLean. No one said that she had been surcharged; even in the press conference I said people are innocent until proven otherwise. The process continues and will be managed by the relevant entities that are empowered to do so,” he stated. Dr McLean was sent on leave on October 13 last year following the release of the audit report on activities at the JCTE for April 2016 to September 2021. It was said that the career civil servant had failed to exercise her fiduciary responsibilities in authorising payments to the JCTE even after its chairman, Dr Cecil Cornwall, said it was then a private company.
The chairman asserted that he privatised a Government entity and, on that basis, the auditor general had no authority to review such records. According to the auditor general, the acting permanent secretary “suggested that she was helpless in the matter”, as she was unable to convince the chairman to give up the records, and that she had no knowledge of it as a private company.
Monroe Ellis said she found no evidence of a governance and monitoring framework for the JCTE, and that the then acting permanent secretary in the ministry had facilitated a taxpayer registration number for the transfer of government funds to an advisory committee without the finance ministry's approval.
She said the JCTE's chairman had refused to provide requested documentation to her office and the education ministry could not account for the JCTE's use of government funds. The auditor general also noted that an audit of Caribbean Maritime University (CMU) had identified a possible conflict of interest between the JCTE and the permanent secretary.
The funds disbursed to the JCTE were reportedly $94.9 million between March 2018 and April 2020; $21.1 million between August 2017 and April 2018; and $7.9 million between August 2017 to June 2020.