Former Permanent Secretary in the Education Ministry Dean-Roy Bernard has presented Parliament's Public Accounts Committee (PAC) with a damning report on activities at the Education Ministry and perceived conflict of interest involving Grace McLean, who was the Chief Education Officer.
Mrs McLean, who is now the acting permanent secretary in the ministry, has been cited for perceived conflict of interest regarding her husband's employment to the Caribbean Maritime University (CMU).
Mr. Bernard, who was responding to the Special Audit Report on the Governance and Operations of the CMU, said much of what occurred was never reported to him.
He said certain actions by Mrs McLean's husband in his role at the CMU as Vice President of Advancement and Development may have deprived the CMU of much of its resources.
Kept in the dark
Meanwhile, Mr. Bernard has stated that he was kept in the dark regarding public funds spent by the Education Ministry on a birthday party for Caribbean Maritime University president Professor Fritz Pinnock.
Mr. Bernard appeared before the PAC Wednesday to answer questions regarding corruption allegations at the ministry and the CMU, which have led to criminal charges being laid against Professor Pinnock and former education minister Ruel Reid.
Mr. Bernard said he had made it clear public funds should not be used for celebrations after it came to his attention in November 2017 that the then chief education officer, Dr. Grace McLean, was planning an appreciation dinner in his honour.
"I checked with my finance department and there was no record of any public funds being earmarked for this function. However, that use of the credit for that gift was in play, so I sent for the document and, in my presence, it was cancelled. I spoke to the chief education officer at the time and I indicated to her and she assured me that, whilst the function would be held, no public funds would be used, because I indicated that if I'm not so assured, I would not attend," he told the committee.
His appreciation dinner was held.
But several months later, on August 16, 2018, the birthday party for Professor Pinnock took place, with more than $400,000 being spent by the ministry.
Asked why he, as permanent secretary at the time, did not sanction the chief education officer for the use of the funds, Mr. Bernard said he only became aware of the expenditure after it was highlighted in an Auditor General report last year.
"Because even if this (using the funds) was supposed to be done, the very circular requires the head of entity to give the permission for that to be done.... That didn't come to me, certainly," he revealed.
Auditor General speaks
Meanwhile, questions remain about how the appreciation dinner for Mr. Bernard was funded.
The Auditor General's report has noted that he was the beneficiary of a $434,000 appreciation dinner, which was reportedly funded by the Joint Committee for Tertiary Education (JCTE).
But Auditor General Pamela Monroe Ellis said it is still a mystery whether public funds were used.
"There was no payment being made by the ministry. Our attempt now is to get all the information from JCTE, because it is my view... that at that substantive point, JCTE is a public body in the sense that it is associated with government. So any payments being made by JCTE now becomes an interest to the Auditor General and the other members of the team. JCTE to this date has not honoured that request to provide the information," she said.
Mr. Bernard said he was told staff from the ministry contributed towards paying for the dinner.
McLean accepts responsibility
In the meantime, Mrs McLean said she accepts responsibility for some of issues of concern raised by Mr. Bernard in his report to the Public Accounts Committee.
"I take responsibility for any area of the report that may appear that the due diligence was not done," she admitted, but argued that in her "estimation and document and understanding of my role at the ministry, I acted based on the instruction and the documentation that was provided to me."
She noted that she did "not act outside of instruction" and "had regular meetings with the minister...to ensure that the ministry is run in a structured and orderly manner."
Husband's CMU employment
Meanwhile, Mrs McLean addressed the PAC regarding her husband's employment at the Caribbean Maritime University.
"I could not with any reasonableness know that my husband has been working at CMU for the last 10 years and put myself up to have direct responsibility over CMU. I do not approve funds to the CMU, I do not give CMU instructions, or any other universities for that matter. So I really was not aware that I was fully in charge of CMU until the matters are being specifically spoken about," she claimed.
She said her husband is willing "to tell his story if requested" to appear before the committee regarding the allegations.