JAMAICA | Maureen Dwyer to act as permanent secretary in education ministry

JAMAICA | Maureen Dwyer to act as permanent secretary in education ministry

KINGSTON,  Jamaica October 15, 2021- Chief inspector for the National Education Inspectorate Maureen Dwyer, has been asked to Act as permanent secretary in the Ministry of Education replacing  Dr Grace McLean who has been sent on leave in light of an investigation into the use of $124 million by the Joint Committee for Tertiary Education (JCTE) headed by Dr. Cecil Cornwall.

Acting permanent secretary in the ministry of education Dr. Grace McLean has gone on leave.Acting permanent secretary in the ministry of education Dr. Grace McLean has gone on leave.This followed a report by the Auditor General to the PAAC, in which a special audit report on activities at the Joint Committee for Tertiary Education (JCTE), for which the education ministry has oversight, pointed to a failure of fiduciary responsibility on the part of its officers. The audit covered the period April 2016 to September 2021.

Auditor General Pamela Monroe-Ellis has referred the findings to portfolio minister Fayval Williams to be passed on to the police or an anti-corruption agency for investigation.

In a terse statement yesterday, the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM) said McLean would proceed on leave as of Wednesday “in light of the auditor general's report concerning fiduciary and related issues at the Ministry of Education, Youth and Information, and the investigations being pursued”.

The auditor general has also called on the Ministry of Finance to have the two senior officers named in the matter pay back the $124 million. The disbursements included payments made between March 2018 and April 2020, totalling $94.9 million; payments made between August 2017 and April 2018 totalling $21.1 million; and payments between August 2017 and June 2020 totalling $7.9 million.

The Parliamentary Opposition had earlier called for Dr. McLean to step aside while investigations were conducted into the transfer of more than $100 million and activities which took place while she was Chief Education Officer.

An investigation by the Gleaner earlier this year raised questions about Dr. McLean's role in the oversight of two programmes - the Career Advancement Programme (CAP) and the Centre of Occupational Studies (COS) which had partnered with the Joint Committee for Tertiary Education and for which Dr. McLean was responsible. 

Questions about the award of contracts and conflicts of interest in relation to the programmes prompted Education Minister Fayval Williams to ask the Auditor General's Department to expand its investigation of the ministry to include those programmes.

Auditor General  Mrs Pamela Monroe-Ellis has referred her findings to portfolio minister Fayval Williams to be passed on to the police or an anti-corruption agency for investigation.Auditor General Mrs Pamela Monroe-Ellis has referred her findings to portfolio minister Fayval Williams to be passed on to the police or an anti-corruption agency for investigation.Monroe-Ellis had identified both the acting permanent secretary and permanent secretary as having failed to implement measures to ensure that Government funds were appropriated in keeping with the requisite law and established guidelines, and that arrangements had been put in place to safeguard government resources.

In a letter addressed to the Auditor General's Department two weeks ago, McLean pointed out that $94.9 million of the $124 million represents funds deducted from the per student fees for the occupational associate degree that was paid to the JCTE. She also sought to provide an explanation for disbursements of $11 million, and $199,000 to the JCTE between April and June 2020.

“The funds transferred to the JCTE technically belonged to the institutions and therefore an alternative could be to request of the members of the JCTE to account for the funds that were spent by the JCTE, as the member institutions should be aware of what the funds belonged them was used for,” she wrote.

However, another letter from McLean to Monroe-Ellis on December 23, 2019, stated that “the chairman of the JCTE had maintained that the JCTE is a private entity governed by its members and he has seen no documentation to suggest otherwise.”

Monroe-Ellis commissioned the special audit to determine if the JCTE was adhering to its mandate in the context of the audit of Caribbean Maritime University, where a possible conflict of interest between the JCTE and the permanent secretary in the ministry had been identified.

Chairman of the Joint Committee for Tertiary Education, Cecil Cornwall,has told the media that he was advised by his attorney not to speak on the developments regarding the JCTE.

In commenting on the matter, the National Integrity Action (NIA) said those responsible for wrongfully transferring the $124 million from the Ministry of Education to the JCTE should reimburse the money to the public coffers. Principal Director of NIA, Professor Trevor Munroe, says  it is unacceptable that over the last six years, no responsible officer has been required to pay back taxpayers' money spent in breach of the law. 

"At a time when taxpayers are suffering and the government is struggling to find funds to provide care for those who are under pressure in the pandemic, those who continue to offend proper administration of our bodies need to pay back what they have improperly spent, in accordance with the law," he declared.

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