Former MP claims disrespect

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Former Member of Parliament for St Ann North Western Othneil Lawrence has come out blazing as he finally broke his silence on allegations that he gave up being the Jamaica Labour Party’s (JLP) representative in the constituency for a $5.5-million contract.

Lawrence, who had gone to court in 2014 to prevent a move by the JLP to unseat him as the representative in the constituency, signed the contract as an advisor at Caribbean Maritime University (CMU) in 2018 and two months later walked away from the political post to pave the way for then Education Minister Senator Ruel Reid to replace him.

Reid was at the time the minister with responsibility for the CMU.

But Lawrence, in his first full interview since the situation was made public, told the Jamaica Observer that there was no link to his decision to leave the constituency and the contract he received at the CMU.

“It is something that I deemed very disappointing that anyone could consider that I would give up the people who I lived with and represented for a decade, or that I could swap those brothers and sisters of mine for any contract,” said Lawrence as he argued that it would make no sense to give up the constituency for a contract which makes it clear that it can be terminated at any time by either party.

“The decision to leave North West St Ann came based on the fact that after losing a second election in 2016 I thought that the support at that time was very minimal from several sectors, plus with what had happened in the past it was best for me to walk away. It was just a convenient time,” added Lawrence.

He said that based on the respect that he was shown by the party’s leadership this time around when it was indicated that Reid was being tipped to replace him there was no need to enter another fight with the organisation.

According to Lawrence, he had made contact with the CMU and several other agencies job hunting long before he became aware that Reid had an interest in the seat.

Lawrence further noted that while he was state minister in the Ministry of Transport and Mining, it had control of the CMU, and he was well aware of its work and, the programmes it was implementing, and was confident that with his experience and training he could add value to its work.

“The relationship that I have shared with the CMU is long before Mr Reid even thought of North West St Ann, and before he held that portfolio as minister of education,” said Lawrence.

The former MP said his work with unattached youth goes back many years, and his track record in St Ann North Western underscored his work with youth at risk.

Pointing to the declaration by CMU head, Professor Fritz Pinnock, during last week’s sitting of the Public Administration and Appropriations Committee that trained teachers had been struggling to deal with at-risk youth, Lawrence argued that he was well equipped and prepared for this task.

“The politics has trained me a lot but more than that it is my whole personality. I understand their pain, I understand how things can happen coming out of certain homes, and I have been able to deal with persons who are on the verge of joining gangs and talking them out of it while putting them on a new path,” said Lawrence.

“When the CMU told me that they wanted me to work in that area, because they had failed in the past, I was able to use my experience to speak to these youths, and we are seeing some major differences. Since I have been there I have seen close to 1,000 students participating in the CMU.

“We are trying to give them certification in areas such as how to deal with heavy equipment, landscaping and other areas, and within a year they are becoming certified and moving into jobs.

“No one can make me walk away from the CMU, except the persons who contracted me, because I am positive that I have something to contribute. I have taken this opportunity to go out and work with these youths, and I believe it is going to impact positively on Jamaica in the future,” said Lawrence, who holds an associate degree in business and has operated a major financial services network on the north coast for the past 23 years.

With questions also surrounding his qualification for the job at the CMU, Lawrence noted that he was the first Jamaican to be elected to the executive of the Parliamentary Confederation of the Americas.

“When I went there, the leadership qualities that I displayed, I was elected a vice-president and put in charge of the Caribbean. So it is not only the CMU which has recognised my abilities but international parliamentarians as well.”

According to Lawrence he went silent in the face of the painful allegations of a quid pro quo with Reid because he believed the leadership of the CMU should be allowed to respond first.

“The fact is that I am employed to an institution, and the fact of it is that there has to be guidelines: you cannot jump and respond before the people you are employed to. I had to wait until the university, which is offering excellent courses, made a response before I could do any form of interviews.

“I sat on about nine committees in Parliament so I am aware of how they operate. These included the Ethics Committee, which has guided me over the years to be truthful and honest and accountable to this nation,” declared Lawrence.

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