Sometimes Journalism Just Works...
More than a year ago, 18º North released a story about Dr. Grace McLean and her husband owning a facility and renting it out to students at Caribbean Maritime University (CMU) while her husband was a vice president at the school and she was Acting Permanent Secretary in the education ministry. We also showed how a CMU bus was providing special door-to-door service to and from their facility to the school for their student residents while most other students had to find public transportation or make their way to a central pick-up point.
This reporting helped kickstart the public scrutiny of Dr. McLean that ultimately led to her being sent on leave this past week.
Investigative work by my media colleague Jovan Johnson at The Gleaner earlier this year amped things up even more. His reporting caused Education Minister Fayval Williams to request the Auditor General’s Department (AudGen) expand its probe. The probe found that under Dr. McLean’s watch and under the previous leadership of Permanent Secretary Dean-Roy Bernard a mere government committee with no formal legal status like a department or agency was able to secure J$124 million (*US$913,511) of funding from the ministry with “no account” as to how the money was spent.
The AudGen report was as damning as it was forthright, a noticeable change in tone from its previous Special Audit of the scandal-plagued CMU where the Pamela Monroe Ellis - led department appeared to have gone light on Dr. McLean, according to an 18º North analysis of that report.
For the first time I’ve seen, the AudGen was explicit in **recommending that the minister call in the police to carry out further investigations, and investigations are reportedly underway. The department also recommended that the Financial Secretary surcharge two senior officers to recover the monies lost — another about-turn after 18º North had reported in December that the AudGen had failed to recommend surcharges for almost eight years despite having the power to do so.
It’s in these moments that we’re reminded about the value of accountability journalism. It’s in these moments that I hope you see the impact of 18º North.
As the main reporter at this outlet and one of the few investigative journalists in Jamaica, this field can be discouraging at times, but then there are other moments like these where you pause to reflect and realize that sometimes journalism just works!
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The Four Related Stories
Property records show that the premises from where these CMU students get picked up is owned by the Acting Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Education Youth and Information, (MOEYI), Dr. Grace McLean, along with her husband Eron McLean, who is CMU Vice President, University Advancement and Development. The couple bought the property for JMD$2.8 million in Feb. 2015 when Dr. McLean was Chief Education Officer within the Ministry and when Mr. McLean said he was Director of Corporate Planning and Administration at the then-Caribbean Maritime Institute.
According to the Financial Instructions of The Financial Administration and Audit Act (FAA Act), the recommendations are supposed to come from an accounting officer - like a permanent secretary - or from the auditor general, the country's chief watchdog of public expenses. (The Public Procurement Act, 2015, enacted last year, stipulates that recommendations can also come from the contractor-general and the Public Procurement Commission.)
But the Pamela Monroe Ellis-led Auditor General’s Department, widely credited for spotlighting corruption, never answered when contacted by 18º North and asked why, in recent years, didn’t it recommend surcharges, one of its only available tools to claw back losses to the government. Nor did it dispute the findings of the ATI response.
By hiding behind its longstanding practice of not inserting names and referring only to titles, an 18º North examination of the report shows that even when the department could have, it failed to make important links for the public about the connections and activities of Dr. McLean that have raised questions about her ability to take the lead on CMU. External auditors consulted by 18º North say these actions, in turn, could threaten to undermine the auditor general’s own credibility as a watchdog on government accountability.
The acting permanent secretary in Jamaica’s Ministry of Education, Youth and Information is more connected than previously known to the private tourism school that reportedly received some of the biggest allocations from two multi-billion dollar government programs she used to oversee.
*US exchange rate based on the average of the annual rates in each of the years over which the J$124 mln was disbursed - between 2018 and 2020.
**As to why Mrs. Monroe Ellis didn’t refer the matter to the police herself, she explained in her report that, “Whereas the FAA Act does not permit me to make reports directly to the JCF or any anti-corruption agency for an investigation to be undertaken further to my report, I strongly urge the Minister of Education to formally refer this report to the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) or a designated anti-corruption agency for investigation.”