Lyndsey McDonnough's Resignation Letter
Through an Access to Information (ATI) request, within the last several weeks, 18º North has finally been given a copy of Lyndsey McDonnough’s resignation letter from the National Health Fund (NHF) board, even though this information had been requested since December of last year.
The letter, dated Feb. 15, 2017, gives the stated reason for her resignation. “I have not been able to add value to the organization in the capacity in which I was appointed,” it read. It made no mention of a conflict of interest.
The letter was addressed to Health Minister Dr. Christopher Tufton and copied to Christopher Zacca, who served as NHF chairman between April 2016 and February 2017.
When 18º North asked Mr. Zacca last year how Ms. McDonnough had been appointed to the NHF board, he said, “The minister goes to Cabinet with a slate of board members. Cabinet approves it. That’s for every single board in the government.” Dr. Tufton didn’t respond to a question about whether he recommended Ms. McDonnough to the board, and the Cabinet referred questions to the ministry, which gave a similar response to Mr. Zacca.
18º North had previously reported that Ms. McDonnough was appointed to the NHF board in April 2016 – two months after the Jamaica Labour Party won the general elections in February of that year. While she was still a member of the board, her firm, Market Me, was simultaneously pitching to the health ministry the implementation of a national health and fitness campaign, Jamaica Moves. The ministry was subsequently given the green light by the National Contracts Commission (NCC) in December 2016 to hire Market Me directly to carry out that campaign without any competing bids. Market Me’s proposal was deemed an unsolicited bid, usually reserved for unique concepts.
The ministry then requested that its agency, the NHF, approve financing for Jamaica Moves, and this was done in February 2017.
Now Ms. McDonnough was saying she was unable to “add value to the organization” on the precise day that her company’s project was receiving the nod from the NHF’s finance committee for $15 million (1US$112,032) in initial funding. That funding recommendation at the committee level would then move to the full board a week later on Feb. 22 where it was approved. 2Dr. Tufton attended that board meeting.
This begs the question, why was Ms. McDonnough appointed to the board of the NHF in the first place, and what value was she expected to bring when Dr. Tufton presumably appointed her?
In 2020, social media posts alleged that she and Dr. Tufton had been having an affair for the past seven years while her company was receiving millions of dollars in 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.
Though in 2017 Ms. McDonnough claimed she had “not been able to add value” to the NHF in the capacity in which she was appointed, three years later in 2020, Dr. Tufton would speak glowingly about her company in response to a Gleaner reporter’s question as to whether he had had a close affiliation with any of the directors of Market Me.
“Yes, I have a great relationship with Market Me. I think they are an amazing company,” he said. “They have delivered very effectively during my tenure as minister, and I have no difficulty in saying they work hard, and I enjoyed working with them.”
It's not fully clear, then, why Ms. McDonnough wrote she wasn’t able to “add value” since she is a principal at the same firm, deemed to have delivered “very effectively,” according to the minister.
Worth asking then is, was this really the real reason?
Ms. McDonnough didn’t respond to a question asking her to clarify her reason for resigning. Nor did she answer when asked who or what prompted her resignation.
The Integrity Commission is investigating the matter, according to the permanent secretary in the Ministry of Health, Dunstan Bryan. However, the Commission wouldn’t comment last year when asked on whether it’s conducting any such investigation “as a matter of policy and law,” and more than a year on, no results of any probe have been forthcoming.
Left to be answered is, is this a case of cronyism, nepotism and abuse of public office? The Opposition spokesperson on health, Dr. Morais Guy, had last year called for an investigation into whether the minister had used his position to steer or influence contracts awarded to Market Me.
Also, did Dr. Tufton benefit financially from Market Me? The minister didn’t answer that question when 18º North asked by email last year.
Photo taken from the Jamaica Moves Facebook page.
Over the next couple of weeks, 18º North will be releasing new material from our ongoing probe of how almost $88 million (US$654,367) in contracts since 2017 ended up being awarded to Market Me from the Tufton-led health ministry and its related entities without any competing bids. This new material is based on ATI responses recently received even though the requests were made from December last year.
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Meantime, catch up on the other 18º North premium investigations into Market Me that you may have missed by clicking on the links below:
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*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 web site from 2017 - 2020.
Though the minutes of the board meeting show that Dr. Tufton addressed the board that morning and never left, the NHF clarified when asked whether he presided during the time of the board’s approval for funding for Jamaica Moves that day that, “The Recording Secretary advised that having addressed the Board Meeting on February 22, 2017, the Hon. Minister left immediately following his address. Thereafter, Mr. Zacca resumed chairmanship of the meeting.” When asked at what specific point he left, the NHF didn’t respond. The NHF also didn’t respond when asked why it recorded the departures of others that day but not the minister’s.