Sandals scandal heats up

KINGSTON, Jamaica – Following damning criticism in Contractor General Greg Christie’s report on the Sandals Whitehouse hotel project, Dr. Vin Lawrence, chairman of the Urban Development Corporation, has resigned from all Government boards and committees he was associated with.

Dr. Lawrence’s move appeared to confirm reports in The Gleaner last week that indicated he had been asked to step down from all state boards in the wake of the allegations of glaring breaches of Government procurement procedures.

Monday, the other 16 UDC board members indicated they were willing to tender their resignations to Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller. They were, however, asked by the Prime Minister to remain in place to answer questions that may arise from the completion of the forensic audit team report, which is due in two weeks.

Last week, Mr. Christie, in a report tabled in Parliament, accused Dr. Lawrence of flagrantly ignoring the Government’s procurement procedures when his company Jentech Consultants Limited was awarded J$18.8 million under questionable circumstances.

In a statement from the Prime Minister yesterday, read by Colin Campbell, the Minister of Information and Development, during the post-Cabinet press briefing at Jamaica House, Mrs. Simpson Miller said she has invited Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee to consider the matter at an early date.

“These are extremely serious matters, which require a full and public venti-lation and I have given my repeated commitment to protect the public interest and ensure full accountability and transparency,” the Prime Minister statement read.

Mrs. Simpson Miller also indicated she would take further action following a report from the forensic audit team on the matter.

Along with stepping down from his position at the UDC, Dr. Lawrence has also resigned from all associated boards and companies, as well as from all other public sector bodies on which he served. These include Air Jamaica, the Petroleum Corporation of Jamaica and the Bauxite and Alumina Trading Company of Jamaica Ltd.

“I am thankful for the opportunity to have served my country for over three decades,” Dr. Lawrence said in a statement. “I now retire with the certainty that I have given this service with integrity and motivated by an overwhelming desire to contribute to the growth and development of Jamaica.”

Meanwhile, in a letter addressed to the Prime Minister, dated July 23, Dr. Lawrence said his resig-nation was in response to allegations of impropriety on the part of the UDC and added that he would be stepping down in order to facilitate the fullest airing and examination of the issues raised.

Senator Campbell, who is also general secretary of the governing People’s National Party, told journalists yesterday that Dr. Lawrence would retain his position as party treasurer.

Karl Samuda, Opposition Spokesman on Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade, who first raised the issue of corruption on the Westmoreland-located Sandals Whitehouse project, has welcomed Dr. Lawrence’s resignation.

“Dr. Vin Lawrence’s resignation does not come as a surprise to the Opposition because the report from the Contractor General, coupled with the report by the special investigative team headed by Mr. Noel Hylton, pointed to certain departures from known regulations and rules and procedure governing the handling of projects similar to that of the Sandals Whitehouse,” Mr. Samuda said.

He claimed that, having gone so far in breaking these rules and betraying the trust and confidence in protecting the interests of the Jamaican people, Dr. Lawrence’s resignation was “most appropriate”.

Following the directive from the Prime Minister for the PAC to consider the matter, PAC Chairman Audley Shaw told The Gleaner he would be referring the Contractor General’s report to Auditor General Adrian Strachan today.

“I will be consulting with the Auditor General and will be asking him to look at the report to indicate if he will need to do additional work,” he said.

Mr. Shaw said that, from this consultation, he would decide whether or not he would call an emergency meeting of the PAC to discuss the matter.