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Conflict of Interest? Market Me Director Attended NHF Board Meeting on Jamaica Moves
Part 1: Inside the Boardroom Discussions
It was Dec. 2, 2016.
The four-year-old marketing firm Market Me had just cleared the first hurdle in trying to win a $16 million (US$127,063) contract from the Ministry of Health & Wellness to implement a national health and fitness campaign, Jamaica Moves.
A contract of this size would normally require competitive bidding, but Market Me went through a special process.
Because the firm had submitted an unsolicited proposal, usually reserved for unique concepts, the ministry sought and got approval from the National Contracts Commission (NCC) to hire the firm using the direct-contracting method.
Having cleared that hurdle, the next step was funding. For this, the ministry submitted the Jamaica Moves proposal to its agency, the National Health Fund (NHF), which earns billions of dollars from payroll taxes and special levies on items like tobacco and has traditionally funded some of the ministry’s projects.
As it turns out, Market Me would have special consideration here as well.
Its co-owner Lyndsey McDonnough was on the NHF board, the very agency in charge of approving funding for projects, and present at a meeting that discussed Jamaica Moves, according to the minutes obtained by 18º North under the Access to Information Act (ATI).
Ms. McDonnough’s attendance at the meeting that day may have gone unnoticed had it not been for a series of social media posts last summer that alleged she’d been having an affair with Health Minister Dr. Christopher Tufton for the past seven years. In a release, the minister, who is married, 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.
In July 2020, the health ministry confirmed that Market Me received contracts to implement Jamaica Moves and other programs worth almost $88 million (US$654,367) since 2017 from the ministry itself as well as from its related entities. All this work was awarded via direct contracting.
It was also revealed by the press that despite the more than $114 million (US$821,622) in taxpayer funds budgeted by the ministry to promote Jamaica Moves since 2019 - about $34 million of which was paid to Market Me during that time- it is Market Me that owns the Jamaica Moves brand, not the ministry. (The Jamaica Intellectual Property Office confirmed to 18º North that the paperwork was recently filed for a re-assignment of the brand.)
Now, based on these minutes obtained by 18º North, several governance experts have assessed that Ms. McDonnough’s presence on the public board represented a conflict of interest that was dealt with improperly, maybe even unlawfully, as her firm went about securing its first Jamaica Moves contract. Also evident is that there were lapses and irregularities at an entity that’s been widely celebrated as the gold standard in Jamaica for public sector governance.
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