Christopher Tufton and Jamaica Moves: Just Doing His Job or Did He Overstep The Boundaries?
Health Minister Dr. Christopher Tufton pushed for the government’s initial funding of Jamaica Moves and helped oversee the implementation of the health and fitness campaign, an 18º North investigation has found.
The campaign was a project of Market Me, whose principal was alleged on social media to have been romantically involved with the minister, allegations that have not been proven or explicitly denied.
The details of the role the minister played come from the minutes of an agency of the Ministry of Health & Wellness, the National Health Fund (NHF), which funded the project. The latest round of minutes was obtained in November 2021 under the Access to Information Act (ATI), even though 18º North had requested the records a year earlier in December 2020.
The minutes of the Feb. 15, 2017 Finance, Operations & Institutional Benefits Committee meeting reveal that NHF CEO, Everton Anderson, reported to the members that “meetings” had been “held with the Minister [Dr. Tufton] and the Permanent Secretary [Sancia Bennett Templer] who indicated that this project was one of their top priority and we may more than likely be sustaining an annual grant for this programme.”
Video: One of Jamaica Moves’ public service announcements featuring Health Minister Dr. Christopher Tufton, who had been the main spokesperson for the initiative. Credit: Jamaica Moves.
After it was revealed that discussions with the permanent secretary had “confirmed participation from the private sector,” the minutes go on to state that the NHF finance committee “supported the project to be submitted to the Board of Management for approval” to the tune of $15 million (1US$112,032).
That funding recommendation at the finance committee level would then move to the full board a week later on Feb. 22, 2017 where it was approved. Of note, 2Minister Tufton addressed that board meeting.
Shirley-Ann Eaton, attorney and lecturer on ethics and corporate governance at the Mona School of Business & Management at the University of the West Indies in Jamaica, says, on the surface, “There is nothing wrong with a minister pitching the general idea of a fitness programme.”
“The challenge for Tufton is that this project ends up being given to his alleged very close friend, who was then on the Board so the whole initiative appears incestuous,” she said.
Minister Tufton Personally Oversaw The Progress of Jamaica Moves
The batch of minutes, being revealed publicly for the first time, show that Minister Tufton seems to have played an oversight role for Jamaica Moves as well.
In a letter dated July 23, 2018 from the permanent secretary, the minutes lay out how “Minister Tufton had asked that the Jamaica Moves programme be assigned to the National Health Fund,” and that the “MOH will work with NHF to agree on the operational and monitoring arrangements for the programme.”
Photo taken from the Jamaica Moves Facebook page.
By Nov. 28, 2018, the “Hon. Minister of Health” had appointed a five-person Jamaica Moves steering committee initially made up of NHF members, a representative of the health ministry and others to “oversee, manage and co-ordinate the activities of the programme.”
When the steering committee seemed to have been hamstrung in its first year, it was Minister Tufton that showed up at the Sept. 24, 2019 board meeting and said since there seemed to be “confusion” regarding the administration and governance of the Jamaica Moves programme, “clarity was required.”
During Minister Tufton’s address, the chair of the steering committee, Duke Holness, assured the minister that the initial “inertia” of the steering committee due to issues like not having a “clearly defined structure in place” “had been addressed,” and that the “programme should now be executed in a smooth and timely manner.”
After Minister Tufton spoke about Jamaica Moves and other “priority areas for the Board to consider,” the minutes lay out that he stuck around for a few more items of discussion and then left the meeting.
The Jamaica Moves steering committee chair Mr. Holness, later in that same meeting, then highlighted that “significant progress had been made in regards to the implementation of the second phase of the Jamaica Moves programme.”
He then proposed “an annual budget” of $110 million (US$821,570) to fund the programme and, on his motion, seconded by director Paul Hanworth, a sum of 3$110 million was then approved by the full board. (A separate ATI request seems to indicate that the $110 million was added to an approved “interim amount” of $4 million [US$29,875], bringing the total available for disbursement for Jamaica Moves starting in 2019 to $114 million [US$851,445].)
On Dec. 5, 2019, the board decided that quarterly reports on the activities of Jamaica Moves should be sent to the “permanent secretary, the MOH&W, and the Minister of Health & Wellness.”
It’s not clear if, in actuality, these quarterly reports were sent to Minister Tufton, and he didn’t respond to an email from 18º North asking whether he received them. But the public procurement rules require that public officers and officials directly or indirectly involved in the procurement process, including areas like “evaluation” and “contract management” declare any potential conflict of interest, and he didn’t return an email asking if he did.
The extent to which Minister Tufton played a role in pushing for Market Me’s projects came under scrutiny after social media posts alleged in 2020 that Minister Tufton and Market Me’s principal, Lyndsey McDonnough, had been having an affair for the past seven years while her company was receiving contracts from his ministry.
In a release, the minister referred to the posts as “disgusting, vicious and false attributions.” However, he dodged reporters’ questions when asked more directly about his connections to her. Ms. McDonnough didn’t respond when 18º North asked by email about the alleged affair.
Following the social media posts, the Opposition People’s National Party (PNP) spokesman on health Dr. Morais Guy charged in a news release that “such circumstances necessitates an investigation to ascertain whether Minister Tufton used his position as the portfolio Minister to steer or influence, in part or whole, the contracts awarded to Market Me Jamaica.”
“If true, it will amount to cronyism, nepotism and the abuse of public office, which would then necessitate an immediate investigation by either the Integrity Commission or the Auditor General's Department,” Dr. Guy said.
Minister Tufton’s Influence
By various accounts, it was Minister Tufton who would have appointed Ms. McDonnough to the board of the NHF in April 2016.
While she was a member of the board, her firm, Market Me, was simultaneously pitching Jamaica Moves to the health ministry. Minister Tufton, himself, attended a Market Me presentation in July 2016, according to an account given to the parliament in July 2020 by the permanent secretary in the health ministry, Dunstan Bryan.
At least one public-sector governance expert says if Minister Tufton had any kind of relationship with Ms. McDonnough, romantic or otherwise, he shouldn’t have attended that presentation.
“If you have a relationship with this lady, and her firm is making a pitch to provide service to your ministry…you might want to recuse yourself because the minister’s presence can be interpreted by some persons to be a ringing endorsement, especially if they’re no objections from the minister,” U.K. barrister in public law and former Acting Public Defender in Jamaica Matondo Mukulu previously told 18º North.
Compounding the concerns about how the first Jamaica Moves contract was awarded, in the last two months of 2016, Dr. Tufton’s ministry would go on to request and receive the green light from the National Contracts Commission (NCC) to hire Market Me to carry out that campaign without any competing bids on the basis that it was an unsolicited bid, usually reserved for unique concepts.
Making matters even more dicey, the ministry then went on to request financing for Jamaica Moves from its agency, the NHF, the very board that Ms. McDonnough was then serving on.
The Board Wasn’t Initially Impressed With the Jamaica Moves Proposal But Approved It Anyway
The minutes show that when the NHF board first discussed Jamaica Moves on January 25, 2017, it had some concerns.
Even with Ms. McDonnough allowed to sit through the meeting, in what Ms. Eaton called “a patently obvious” conflict of interest, the board decided to defer the project, recommending that the NHF CEO Anderson speak to the permanent secretary to have the programme “better scoped.”
The newly-obtained minutes show that Mr. Anderson did communicate the decision of the board to the ministry,” and by Feb. 15, 2017 the project document was “redone”.
It’s not clear if the finance committee was satisfied with the revised document.
But according to the minutes, having heard from Mr. Anderson regarding Jamaica Moves being a “top priority” for the minister and the permanent secretary and that the then permanent secretary had confirmed private sector participation that would ensure a “public/private approach to the health promotion activity,” the committee gave its support for the project to be submitted to the full board anyway. There was to be one proviso: that a letter be written to the health ministry advising that the Board “would like to see a more holistic plan of outcomes and how they would be measured.”
Ms. McDonnough resigned the NHF board that same day on Feb. 15, 2017 saying she wasn’t “able to add value to the organization” in the capacity in which she was appointed. She addressed her resignation letter to Minister Tufton.
The full board then met a week later on Feb. 22, 2017 and approved the $15 million in funding.
When all was said and done, it was finally revealed by Mr. Bryan in his appearance before parliament that between 2017 to 2020, Market Me had been awarded contracts worth around $88 million (US$654,367) for Jamaica Moves and other activities from the health ministry and its related entities. All these contracts were awarded through direct contracting, meaning there were no competing bids.
For its part, Market Me maintained in a release that “all requirements of the law, including public sector procurement laws, regulations, and procedures have been fully complied with.” The former permanent secretary, Mrs. Bennett Templer, had previously referred 18º North to the health ministry for all Market Me-related questions.
The majority of the total $114 million budget for Jamaica Moves ended up being paid out by the NHF to various entities, including Market Me, starting in 2019. It was later revealed that despite all this government investment, it was Market Me that owned the Jamaica Moves brand, not the ministry. The brand has since been transferred to the health ministry with an effective date of Nov. 30, 2020.
Minister Tufton may have benefited politically from the Jamaica Moves exposure as well.
As the star spokesperson for these commercials, he was promoted on TV and in the newspapers, which boosted his image and arguably helped him secure the top spot as the best-performing government minister in several local polls.
On that front, Shadow Minister Dr. Guy charged, “One would hope that public funds are not being misused to enhance in any way the individual brand/image and persona of Minister Tufton.”
18º North asked Minister Tufton if he had benefited monetarily or otherwise as spokesperson for Jamaica Moves, but he didn’t respond to that email sent in December 2020.
Current Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Health, Mr. Bryan, told 18º North that the Integrity Commission is investigating. But the anti-corruption body wouldn’t confirm any such probe or the nature of any such probe “as a matter of policy and law.”
The Auditor General’s Department was also asked if it was investigating the Market Me contracts. In a response, it wrote to 18º North that while it conducts annual audits of the health ministry, which includes a review of its expenditure, “currently, the AuGD is not undertaking a Special Audit of the Ministry of Health and Wellness.”
The exchange rate used to convert Jamaican dollars to US is $133.89, the average of the yearly average exchange rates on the Bank of Jamaica’s website from 2017 - 2020.
While the minutes don’t reflect that Minister Tufton left before the funding was approved, the NHF clarified to 18º North that, “the Hon. Minister left immediately following his address.” However, when 18º North followed up and asked why the recording secretary would have failed to record the minister leaving but noted the exact time of departure for other board members that day, the NHF didn’t respond.
Duke Holness later clarified for 18º North that though the minutes say “annual”, the $110 million he proposed was for the duration of the programme, which he thinks was somewhere between 12 and 15 months. Even on that basis, the $110 million approved would equate to more than the original funding request for Jamaica Moves that was listed in the minutes as having been made to the NHF board in 2018 for $166.31 million (US$1.2 million) over two years or an average for each year of $83.16 million (US$621,079). When asked, neither Mr. Holness, Mr. Hanworth, the then NHF chairman Gregory Mair nor Mr. Anderson from the NHF responded when asked whether this analysis was correct and, if yes, why was more money approved than requested. As to where the $110 million figure came from, Mr. Holness wrote in a WhatsApp message, “NHF provided direction in that regard.” The NHF has not responded to queries sent yesterday about how it came up with that $110 million figure.
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