Thursday 20 February, 2020

Bunting alleges 'orgy of looting' at CMU, accuses PM of hiding

Peter Bunting

Peter Bunting

An orgy of looting!

That was how the Opposition Spokesman on Education and Training, Peter Bunting described the state of affairs at the scandal-scarred Caribbean Maritime University (CMU), during Tuesday’s contentious sitting of the House of Representatives.

Bunting also accused Prime Minister Andrew Holness, who was absent from the sitting, of hiding.

The damning report of the Auditor General’s department into the operation of the CMU was belatedly tabled around 4.50 pm Tuesday. That was long after Members of Parliament on both sides of the political divide clashed over why it was withheld and took issue with statements made by House Speaker, Pearnel Charles who appeared to have wanted to shut down the debate on the matter.

Charles, whose opening statement triggered the heated exchanges, appeared to quickly lose the handle on the proceedings.

Later when Bunting rose to respond to a brief ministerial statement made by acting education minister Karl Samuda, after tempers cooled temporarily, he was scathing in his criticism of the Holness administration.

After he revealed that all but one member of the Council of the CMU had tendered their resignations, Samuda suggested “there are no challenges currently facing the CMU in the day-to-day management of the university”.

This, as measures have been put in place to address the shortcomings as outlined in the AG’s report, he said.

However, Bunting was not buying it.

“I must say that I am disappointed that an issue of such moment in the public domain, that the minister comes to address matters related to matters related to the CMU and he makes a statement, this double, and sometimes tripled-spaced statement that couldn’t even cover two sides of a page…,” Bunting began.

“Mr Speaker, this is a mere tissue attempting to cover the rotting stench emanating from the state of affairs at the CMU."

He then segued into a cricket analogy, in the process launching into the prime minister to applause from Opposition MPs.

“What we see today is the minister (Samuda) being sent out as a night watchman because the prime minister, who is the de jure minister of education, is afraid to face the bowling in this parliament.

“We’re seeing a deliberate scheme involving an interlocking web of cronies and the object of the scheme is to loot the taxpayers of this country.

“We saw this similar pattern of behavior at Petrojam and the related entities and also at NeSOL and other entities...And Mr Speaker, the only person who can come to this parliament and give an account for appointing all these boards and appointing two of his closet political colleagues to preside over this orgy of looting is the prime minister of this country."

He was particularly peeved by Holness’ absence from the sitting.

“The fact that he’s not here to do it (make a statement on the matter) today (Tuesday) …Mr Speaker, I say to the prime minister, this is not a profile in political courage, this is somebody seeking to scurry away from the hard questions that we should be asking him here in parliament”.

Bunting also asked under what circumstances the former Chairman of the CMU Council, Hyacinth Bennett was appointed as she did not fit any of the criteria that state how persons are appointed.

“From the very appointment of the Council, the chairman was ultra vires because she doesn’t meet any of these criteria…,” Bunting argued.

“So what we see is a pattern emerging, the same thing we saw repeatedly in many of the agencies, including Petrojam…persons who are appointed because they are political cronies and, predictably, the outcome is what we see playing out. First with Petrojam…and now at the ministry of education,” the opposition spokesman added.

He said despite handing in their resignations, the former Council members “should not be allowed to just slither away into anonymity or obscurity”. Rather, they should be ordered before Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee to give an account of their stewardship said Bunting.

He also said the same people who brought the institution to its knees were still in place.

And despite Samuda’s insistence that he did not see the AG’s report, South East St Andrew MP, Julian Robinson, accused the Administration of trying to cover up the mess at the CMU and of being derelict in its duties.This, as it emerged that the CMU had responded to the draft report from the AG as far back as August 22, 2019.  

“I believe it is a dereliction of duty and responsibility if a report went to the ministry from August last year, where the portfolio minister (Ruel Reid) was fired for corruption and you’re telling me, in the political directorate, that you had no sight of the report and that you did nothing from August last year…,” said Robinson.

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