13 May 2011

Mary’s boychild

This article from the Newsday is worthy of a reprint.

1305261882849n26FIVE MONTHS after entering office as the Planning Minister in 2010, Mary King was accused of “stubborn disregard” for “clearly documented laws, rules and company policies” at the billion- dollar special purpose State enterprise Udecott by its chairman Jearlean John.

The impasse, which involved an exchange of correspondence between King and John, reached a climax on April 28, 2011, a mere twelve days before King was dismissed by Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar.

The first correspondence was fired by John in an email dated November 2, 2010, in which John accused King, then the Udecott line minister, of violating procedure by creating a special post and appointing an official to perform the function of “Project Director, Special Projects and Business Development” at Udecott in the absence of a board.

The man chosen for the job was engineer Kenneth Crichlow who was appointed to the ad hoc post on October 11, 2010, in a contract signed by the then Udecott legal officer Richard Freeman.

The salary paid to Crichlow was $52,000 a month and other perks listed in his two-year contract included a company car, a Blackberry phone and a monthly allowance of $750.

In a strongly-worded email sent on November 2, 2010, John told King that the appointment (which took place behind her back) violated Udecott’s rules which allow for the hiring of staff only for positions already contained within an approved company structure.

John then gave instructions for Crichlow’s appointment to be rescinded on November 7, 2010, less than a month after his contract.

After Crichlow was fired by John, King, in a letter dated April 28, 2011, asked John to provide an explanation as to why Crichlow was terminated.

Confidential emails obtained by Newsday disclose that the Udecott chairman only discovered the appointment–which was signed off by the then Udecott legal officer without John’s knowledge— when Crichlow appeared at two meetings held between Udecott officials and the Speaker of the House of Representatives Wade Mark at the Red House over the issue of repairs to the Parliament. Those meetings took place on October 29, 2010, and November 1, 2010.

An apparently startled John made internal inquiries and was informed by the then Udecott legal officer Richard Freeman that he had signed off on a plum contract for Crichlow almost two weeks earlier on instruction from “the Ministry”.

In an email to John on November 1, 2010, Freeman wrote: “the instructions to engage Mr Crichlow came from the ministry. I was asked to sign off on his letter of engagement on the terms proposed by the ministry.”

In an email to King dated November 2, 2010, John claimed the following: “Minister, you continue to stubbornly disregard clearly documented laws, rules, company policies and even sound advice. It is therefore with great reluctance, dismay and astonishment that I view these current developments at Udecott.”

“On Friday, October 29 (2010) and Monday, November 1 (2010), I attended meetings at the Red House relative to repairs to the roof and noticed the attendance of Mr Kenneth Crichlow with the Udecott team,” John recalled in her November 2, 2010, email to King.

“I took the time to inquire as to his role at these meetings and discovered that he had been employed subject to your instructions at Udecott since three weeks ago in the capacity of Project Director, Special Projects and Business Development and has been paid a salary of $52,000 per month with perks of car, health insurance etc.”

“Did no one inform you that this job does not exist at Udecott? And should it have been an approved position:

1) Was this job advertised?

2) Who conducted the interviews?

3) Where is the evaluation?

4) How was the compensation package arrived at?

5) Who approved the contract?

6) Who signed the contract?

7) Did there exist an emergency which was enough to compel this ill-advised action?” John inquired.

John continued, “Madam, it is my duty to point out to you that the position of Project Director, Special Projects and Business Development did not exist on the approved organisational structure at Udecott, three weeks ago, and today November 2, (2010) even after this so-called appointment by your goodself or on your instructions, the position still does not exist.”

John noted that the creation of a new position at Udecott, which is a publicly-owned private limited liability company, could only come about through approval from:

1) a duly constituted board (there was none at the time of the King appointment);

2) the corporation sole (the Ministry of Finance is the corporation sole); or 3) the Cabinet (there appeared to be no evidence of Cabinet approval).

In her November 2, 2010 email to King, John expressed frustration, given the controversial nature of Udecott which remains under police probe and was dogged by controversy and allegations of graft under the PNM government.

“Do you think the staff of Udecott are unaware of what you are doing?” John asked King. “How long again do you think actions such as the ill-conceived and illegitimate engagement of Mr Crichlow will remain undiscovered and out of the public domain?”

“Are you aware of what the media, or worse the Opposition, can do to the Government should the outcome of your instructions be held up to public scrutiny?” John asked back in November, 2010. The subject of John’s email was listed as “My fiduciary duty”.

King did not respond to the email. The impasse remained unresolved even as both officials attended the ceremonial handing-over of instruments of appointment to the new Udecott board on February 4, 2011, at the offices of the Ministry of Planning at downtown Port-of-Spain.

However, by letter dated April 28, 2011, King wrote to the Udecott chairman asking for a justification for the termination of Crichlow.

“Further to your appointment as chairman of the board of Udecott, I write to advise you that you are required to fulfil certain reporting responsibilities to the line minister inclusive of those outlined below,” King said to John. She asked for board minutes, and details of any requests for overseas travel.

King also asked for, “a justification for the termination of Mr Kenneth Crichlow as project manager without reference to the line ministry.” She said the ministry “had recommended him for a short term contract to fill a management gap at Udecott.”

Crichlow’s contract was for a term of two years subject to payment of a 20 percent gratuity at the end of the period.

An email trail obtained by Newsday makes clear that the instructions to hire Crichlow came after an exchange of emails between King’s permanent secretary Juliana Johan-Boodram and Freeman in early October, 2010.

John, in an email dated November 7, 2010, (a Sunday) instructed Freeman to advise then Minister King that the appointment should be rescinded. She also reprimanded Freeman.

In that email John said to Freeman, “you are aware that Udecott remains under investigation by the authorities and therefore I cannot knowingly abandon my duty and comply in a calculated breach.”

“During our discussions you confirmed the fact that the appointment of Mr Kenneth Crichlow is illegitimate and therefore in that instance you too had a duty to counsel, advise, guide the Honourable Minister consequent to her instructions. “This failure on your part must not be perpetuated by me, as it serves to further negatively impact the organisation and retard any objective of achieving corporate rectitude,” John said. She rejected the idea that the contract with Crichlow could be ratified at a future date after the fact of the execution of a contract. Such a step, she argued, was appropriate only for “a life or death situation.”

“And even then the chairman would have had to be consulted and directed that instruction to you,” John noted.

Freeman quit his post as Udecott chief legal officer last week.

On Tuesday, King was fired amidst a scandal over a $100,000 contract awarded to a company tied to her family. The contract was awarded in November 2010, at around the same time as John’s first email to King.

Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar fired King on Tuesday, citing fresh information in relation to the former minister.

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