Jamaican Law Enforcement Raids Home of Former Acting Permanent Secretary Dr. Grace McLean
Jamaica’s crime-fighting agencies on Friday searched the home of Dr. Grace McLean, former acting permanent secretary in the Ministry of Education. The agencies raided a total of nine locations - five in the corporate area, one in Westmoreland and three in St James - in connection with the ongoing investigation into the allegations surrounding activities at the ministry and the Joint Committee for Tertiary Education (JCTE).
“We can confirm that this morning, detectives and agents from the Major Organized Crime and Anti- Corruption Agency, the Financial Investigations Division and Counter Terrorism and Organized Crime Investigations branch conducted search and seizure operations at a number of locations, in connection with an ongoing investigation into operations at the Ministry of Education,” spokesperson for MOCA, Basil Jarrett, confirmed to 18º North.
He said those locations included the premises of Dr. McLean and other properties linked to her. Several premises linked to Dr. Cecil Cornwall, the head of JCTE, were also searched. A source said Western Hospital Institute in Montego Bay was one of those, which is currently being searched as of this writing. Excelsior Community College was also one of the locations searched. Excelsior’s principal Philmore McCarthy was listed as a director of JCTE when it morphed into a private entity from a government committee. Efforts to contact Dr. Cornwall, Western Hospitality and Excelsior’s Mr. McCarthy were unsuccessful.
Mr. Jarrett said that the authorities seized “several devices and documents relating to that investigation which will be taken in for processing by our cyber and forensic experts.”
“Coming out of this morning’s operations, we hope to move closer to making arrests,” he said.
Dr. McLean’s attorney Peter Champagnie didn’t return a message or call seeking comment. However, he was quoted by another press outlet, as saying that his client strongly denies any impropriety and maintains her innocence.
Dr. McLean has been on interdiction or barred from returning to work since January last year until a decision was made on whether or not she would be required to pay back millions of dollars unaccounted for at the ministry. This disciplinary action stemmed from an investigation by Auditor General Pamela Monroe Ellis found that under Dr. McLean’s watch and under the previous leadership of Permanent Secretary Dean-Roy Bernard, JCTE, a mere government committee with no formal legal status like a department or agency was able to secure J$124 million (US$913,511) of funding from the ministry with “no account” as to how the money was spent. In another report, Mrs. Monroe Ellis stated that the former acting permanent secretary, Dr. McLean, was allegedly responsible for $11 million of that amount.
MOCA’s spokesperson, Mr. Jarrett told 18º North that Mr. Bernard is a “part of the investigation” but his premises was not searched today. When pressed as to whether that meant Mr. Bernard was under investigation, Mr. Jarrett wouldn’t go further.
Mr. Bernard told 18º North that, “I have nothing to hide. I am not involved in any investigation with MOCA and its investigation of Grace McLean. I gave a voluntary statement to MOCA two years ago as it relates to my function as permanent secretary within the Ministry of Education. Since then, I have not had any meetings or discussion with MOCA or any police organization, but am prepared to cooperate with any investigation.”
Additionally, he said, “The comments by the Auditor General in her report that referred to my function as PS are the subject matter of a claim in defamation duly filed in the Supreme Court of Jamaica last August. Her assertions were false.”
Mr. Bernard’s attorney Keith Bishop corroborated that a suit was filed against the Auditor General by Mr. Bernard, however, he did not yet send the court documents. Separate efforts by 18º North to independently verify that a suit was filed in the court haven’t yield any results yet.
18º North has been instrumental in reporting on Dr. McLean since our launch online three years ago. Help us do more of this type of journalism by taking out a paid subscription to 18º North. It’s US$10 a month or US$100 a year. Best of all, when you subscribe today, you’ll get immediate access to the archive of the 18º North exclusive stories that led up to this point.
Property records show that the premises from where these CMU students get picked up is owned by the Acting Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Education Youth and Information, (MOEYI), Dr. Grace McLean, along with her husband Eron McLean, who is CMU Vice President, University Advancement and Development. The couple bought the property for JMD$2.8 million in Feb. 2015 when Dr. McLean was Chief Education Officer within the Ministry and when Mr. McLean said he was Director of Corporate Planning and Administration at the then-Caribbean Maritime Institute.
By hiding behind its longstanding practice of not inserting names and referring only to titles, an 18º North examination of the report shows that even when the department could have, it failed to make important links for the public about the connections and activities of Dr. McLean that have raised questions about her ability to take the lead on CMU. External auditors consulted by 18º North say these actions, in turn, could threaten to undermine the auditor general’s own credibility as a watchdog on government accountability.
The acting permanent secretary in Jamaica’s Ministry of Education, Youth and Information is more connected than previously known to the private tourism school that reportedly received some of the biggest allocations from two multi-billion dollar government programs she used to oversee.
18º North has obtained a copy of a 2015 application form for the Dr. Grace McLean Scholarship tenable at Western Hospitality Institute (WHI) at a time when she had direct oversight of one of the programs as Chief Education Officer (CEO), and WHI was a beneficiary.
*US exchange rate based on the average of the annual rates in each of the years over which the J$124 mln was disbursed - between 2018 and 2020.