Lawrence’s CMU contract under review

Lawrence’s CMU contract under review

BY ALPHEA SAUNDERS
Senior staff reporter
saundersa@jamaicaobserver.com

Thursday, May 30, 2019

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THERE are indications that the $5.1-million per annum contract with former St Ann North Western Member of Parliament Othneil Lawrence for consultancy services to the Caribbean Maritime University (CMU) is now under review.

President of the CMU, Dr Fritz Pinnock, told the Public Administration and Appropriations Committee (PAAC) of Parliament yesterday that a review is being conducted by the CMU’s Council, when asked whether the university intended to continue the controversial contract.

In the wake of the sudden resignation of former Education Minister Ruel Reid from the Cabinet and Senate in March, the CMU head has come under pressure about Lawrence’s hiring. He has maintained, however, that Lawrence was hired to assist with the transformation of the university’s programme which targets at-risk youth.

At yesterday’s PAAC meeting, where Dr Pinnock again appeared along with officials of the Education Ministry, he was pressed by Opposition members about whether there had been any involvement by the former minister in Lawrence’s hiring.

“This contract was signed on April 1, 2018. On April 3 Reid formally announced that he was running in North West St Ann, where this former MP was also a person of interest in the constituency for the same party. At this point this person now endorses the minister. You have a situation where one candidate is brought before you, you have one interview, and one person was selected. Given a salary of $5.1 million, can you not see that to the entire country this appears very suspicious? Were you not reading what appears to be a situation where this person who is an interested party to him (the minister) in North West St Ann is being contracted by you? At no stage did you see this? Did you discuss this with Minister Reid?” PAAC Chairman Dr Wykeham McNeill asked.

“We had no discussion on it, no minister gets involved in employment at CMU. I cannot answer nor would I collude to take part in any political employment of this nature. We had a problem with how we treat with these youths, and this was a substantial part of how we go forward. Absolutely, [in] no way did I have any discussion or influence from any minister on this issue,” Dr Pinnock insisted.

He also said it had not been necessary for the university’s council to weigh in on Lawrence’s hiring as it was not a high-level position. He also stressed that the former MP was hired to the university for the sole purpose of its youth at-risk programme, and that he was the only one hired for the position because he possessed the skill set that the CMU wanted.

“The main purpose of Mr Lawrence was to help in the redesign and reorientation of our approach to these youths and how to get results, through his support we redesigned the whole programme. We have received value for money,” Dr Pinnock told the committee.

Manchester North Western Member of Parliament Mikael Phillips argued that Lawrence’s value as a consultant to the programme was not apparent. He said Dr Pinnock’s own explanation, was that there was no issue with attracting youth to the programme, yet the rationale provided for Lawrence’s hiring was that he could better connect with the target cohort to pull them into the programme. Phillips also pointed out that some of the activities under the programme had already successfully begun even before Lawrence came on board.

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