Jamaica health fund troubled

KINGSTON, Jamaica – Jamaica’s multibillion-dollar National Health Fund, which provides financial support to the national health-care system, was being inappropriately tapped to foot private security bills.

Security guards were hired for its former chief executive officer, Rae Barrett, who is also deputy chairman of the Jamaica Urban Transit Company. Barrett has since been fired. Private security arrangements were also put in place at the NHF’s New Kingston offices to allay the fears of staff as some JUTC meetings were also being held at the NHF offices.

$2 million security

JUTC Deputy Chairman Rae Barrett was chief executive officer of the NHF until Sunday night. The Gleaner understands that the cash-rich health fund was expected to pay approximately $2 million to Marksman Limited for the security services.

Of note, Barrett has been chairman of Marksman for a number of years. However, The Gleaner understands that he was not part of the body that negotiated the security contract.

The Gleaner has learnt that the state-owned, cash-strapped bus company took the decision to provide private security for Barrett after its chairman, Douglas Chambers, was murdered on the job. The JUTC then relied on the inflows at NHF to pay the bill.

A month-long Gleaner investigation revealed that the NHF billed the JUTC close to $400,000 out of the payments already made to Marksman Limited in a bid to recoup some of the money.

Under the contract, Marksman provides armed, unarmed and electronic security for Barrett and the NHF’s New Kingston offices. It is unclear how much the NHF has already paid upfront for the security of its former boss.

Barrett told The Gleaner that close to $2 million had been earmarked to be spent on the security services, which were to run from July 2008 to June 2009.

Health Minister Rudyard Spencer described the arrangement between the NHF and the JUTC as “untidy” and told The Gleaner that the deal was “an unhealthy arrangement that should not have happened”. He has ordered all payments stopped.

“They will have to stop that arrangement and those were my instructions,” he said in a recent interview.

But Spencer seemed ignorant of the arrangement prior to The Gleaner’s probe. He subsequently summoned the NHF board to his office to get an explanation. He said: “I advised the board that if the JUTC is of the view that he (Barrett) needs security, that obligation should reside with the JUTC.”

The Gleaner was reliably informed that Spencer held two subsequent meetings with the NHF board, which resulted in three meetings in 11 days.

Spencer rushed into the first meeting with the members of the board after The Gleaner started asking questions about the security arrangements and the NHF’s business with Capital and Credit Securities, a member of the Capital and Credit Financial Group. The CCFG is headed by Ryland Campbell, who was chairman of the NHF.

Close to two weeks before his resignation, Campbell told The Gleaner that Barrett took the proposal for the NHF to pay a portion of the security expense before the board, shortly after the Chambers murder in June this year.

Pinch-hitting

Campbell also said that Barrett told the board that as a consequence of the murder of Chambers, the JUTC “took a decision to get security for him and other people who were at the forefront”.

“As the deputy chairman of the JUTC, he was pinch-hitting for the deceased chairman and being at the forefront of everything, from what I learnt … His position at the NHF was also being jeopardised while he worked for the NHF and I think that would have been part of the reason why the board would have given approval for some kind of support,” Campbell explained.

However, Campbell could not recall if the structure of the payments had been clearly defined to the board. “The NHF would pay a portion. Now, as to what that portion is, quite honestly, I don’t recall.”

He added: “But I know that the matter was discussed at length at the board meeting and the board gave an approval.”

Campbell declined to comment on his resignation.

However, Grace Allen-Young, permanent secretary in the Ministry of Health and a member of the NHF board, told our news team that the minutes of the NHF board meetings, where the proposal was made to have the fund pay a portion of the security cost, did not provide a record that Barrett had declared his interest.

Former Jamaica Labour Party politician, Bindley A. Sangster, who was recently appointed acting managing director of the JUTC, said the bus company was aware that Barrett was chairman of Marksman Limited.

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