FREE: Robert Garvin, Whose Company Got J$Millions in Government Contracts, Was Also a Director of Foundations Linked to Prime Minister Andrew Holness.
The Positive Jamaica Foundation Alumni
After 18º North recently revealed how Prime Minister Andrew Holness’ Positive Jamaica Foundation Ltd. raised about $58.3 million (US$486,182) between 2012 and 2020 with no specifics as to the source of funding, 18º North has been taking a look at the non-profit’s directors during that same time period.
Some of them benefited from taxpayer money shortly after or while being a director of that foundation and another non-profit linked to Mr. Holness.
Robert Garvin is one of them.
He served as a director of Positive Jamaica alongside Mr. Holness from its inception in November 2011. The foundation was incorporated less than a month after Mr. Holness became prime minister for the first time.
The relationship between Mr. Garvin and Mr. Holness dates back more than 20 years. Mr. Holness has said that Mr. Garvin had worked for him in various capacities, including as project manager/liaison officer for his West Central St. Andrew constituency since 1997, long before that job became an official position.
Three years later in 2000, Mr. Garvin also became a director of another non-profit West Central Saint Andrew Trust, which he and Mr. Holness founded that year along with others for the “welfare, education and development” of the people in that constituency. (Of note, is that notification of his directorship status was only received by the Companies Office seven years later in 2007.)
Mr. Garvin also shared directorships with Mr. Holness or his wife, Juliet, on three other entities - Omega Bridge Finance Ltd., Sunshine Mobile Company Ltd. and Delido Taxi Service Ltd., as 18º North first reported in a TV exposé in May 2016. (Delido Taxi Service and Sunshine Mobile were removed from the registry by the Companies Office in 2011 and 2018, respectively, for not having filed outstanding documents.)
While Mr. Garvin had these business relationships with the Holnesses, millions of dollars in government contracts — some from areas where Mr. Holness had influence— were awarded to Westcon Construction Ltd., a company backed by Mr. Garvin and a man named Donovan Simpson. Mr. Simpson told 18º North in its 2016 exposé, “The three of us are friends,” referring to himself, Mr. Garvin and Mr. Holness. He also said Mr. Garvin and Mr. Holness are “very close.”
As a result of the broadcast, this reporter, Global Reporters for the Caribbean LLC, the company behind 18º North, and its broadcaster, Television Jamaica Ltd. (TVJ), were sued for defamation by both Mr. Holness and Mr. Garvin. Both lawsuits were resolved under confidential terms. The resolutions don't disturb an earlier ruling in a separate legal matter giving 18º North and TVJ the right to rebroadcast the episode.
Stemming from the broadcast, Jamaica’s then Office of the Contractor General, which was made defunct and whose function has now been assumed by the Integrity Commission, investigated.
The Integrity Commission found that between 2006 and 2009, there were at least 46 government contracts valued at about $57.5 million (US$776,643) awarded to Westcon — ten of them amounting to around $21.9 million (US$295,590) from the Ministry of Education Youth and Information (MOEYI), most of those while Mr. Holness was minister; two of them valued at just over $1.8 million (US$24,652) from the community organization agency Social Development Commission (SDC) for work in Mr. Holness’ constituency; and 34 of them worth *$33.8 million (US$456,401) from the National Works Agency (NWA) that oversees roads, with a few of them also being for work in Mr. Holness’ constituency. In addition to their core functions, the NWA and SDC are two entities that also implement constituency projects on behalf of the Constituency Development Fund (CDF).
At least ten of these 46 contracts, mostly all from the NWA and SDC, had either zero or only one tenderer, according to information contained in the Integrity Commission’s Quarterly Contract Awards (QCA) database. However, representatives at the NWA and SDC disputed to investigators that the contracts had any formal procurement procedures for which they were referred to the Director of Corruption Prosecution but ultimately weren’t charged. Only one of those single or zero-tender contracts were from the Ministry of Education. That ministry told investigators that Westcon was hired via direct contracting in that case because the company had already been on site. There were multiple bidders for the other nine contracts from that ministry.
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Mr. Holness’ Referral for Prosecution
Relying on letters written by Mr. Holness in 2007 and 2009, the Integrity Commission’s Director of Investigation, Kevon Stephenson, found that, on the face of it, the “apparent influence” brought to bear by Mr. Holness upon the two contracts which were awarded by the SDC to Westcon “gave rise to a conflict of interest, on the part of the Most Hon. Andrew Holness.” Mr. Holness was referred for prosecution for failing to declare his relationship with Mr. Garvin during the procurement process, seen as a possible violation of the procurement law, plus possible breaches of the Corruption (Prevention) Act and, or any other applicable law.
No Charges for Mr. Holness
However, a 2023 ruling from the Integrity Commission’s Director of Corruption Prosecution, Keisha Prince-Kameka, outlined that in September 2022, a “Judges’ Rules Interview” with Mr. Holness was conducted. (A Judges’ Rules Interview is where suspects are usually informed of their constitutional rights, including the right to stay silent.) During that interview, Mr. Holness explained that for both contracts, he was acting upon requests made of him by government entities.
For the first contract in 2007, stemming from a request by the SDC, which he said was running late with payments that year, he said he merely recommended Westcon as a conduit to pay workers so they could receive their checks in time for Christmas and not as a “contractor to receive a contract for works.”
For the second contract in 2009, where he wrote to the SDC outlining that Mr. Garvin had become the project manager for his constituency effective June 1, 2008, he had previously explained to investigators in 2017 that the office of the Constituency Development Fund (CDF) had advised MPs to choose a project manager, and Mr. Garvin, upon being selected, may have opted for a contract of service through Westcon rather than as an individual. In his subsequent Judges’ Rules Interview in 2022, he noted, “there would be no conflict of interest as the requirement would be to have a project officer in whom the MP would have confidence to administer of the affairs of the constituency.” He also stated there was no need for disclosure because the SDC would have previously known that Mr. Garvin worked in his constituency as a project officer having worked with him on projects there.
With no evidence to contradict Mr. Holness, and the investigation having not revealed the existence of applicable processes to have been followed at that time except the **CDF revised guidelines from 2019, which was way after these two SDC contract awards in 2007 and 2009, the corruption prosecutor ruled that no criminal charges could be brought against Mr. Holness. With regard to willful neglect of duties that could support a charge of misconduct in a public office, the corruption prosecutor said, “More is required to establish this element of the offence.”
How Did Westcon Get The Contracts?
During his Judges’ Rules Interview, Mr. Holness had also stated that as Minister of Education, he had "never directed any public entity, to award a contract to any company, inclusive of Westcon Construction Limited" and that Westcon had been an existing contractor for that ministry prior to him becoming minister.
Mr. Holness continued, "I have, however, made recommendation, as Member of Parliament (MP) to Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDA) for contractors to be considered in the appropriate procurement process, which was customary."
In his report, the Integrity Commission’s Director of Investigation (DI) took issue with this practice and recommended that members of parliament refrain from making recommendations for the award of contracts to employees, political party affiliates and, or operatives, business associates and personal friends. The DI wrote that “where this practice remains unchecked, the stain of corruption, favouritism, and cronyism, whether real or perceived, will taint the integrity of public contracts, projects or programmes which would otherwise be legitimate.” The DI also stated that where recommendations from MPs are permitted, “the suitability of the recommended contractors should be, at a minimum, independently vetted by the Procuring/Implementing Public Body.”
On January 24, 2024, 18º North asked Mr. Holness whether, in his MP capacity, he had ever recommended Mr. Garvin or Westcon Construction to the National Works Agency or any other public entity to carry out works in his constituency or elsewhere, but he didn’t respond.
Mr. Garvin couldn’t be reached for comment as a recording kept saying the phone was either out of range or the mobile was switched off.
However, in his defamation suit against TVJ and the company behind 18º North, Mr. Garvin did state that Westcon had tendered for the contracts “in response to advertisements by the Government of Jamaica” and that they were received as a result of “their having won the tenders or were the only tenderers.” He also said Westcon had been a registered contractor with the then National Contracts Commission (NCC), a requirement for being able to qualify for some of the contracts. Westcon’s NCC registration was confirmed in the Integrity Commission’s investigation report, at least for the majority of the time between 2007 and 2009 when the specific contracts that had this requirement were awarded or signed.
In the report, Mr. Garvin didn’t appear as having been interviewed by investigators. The Integrity Commission wouldn’t confirm whether there was an attempt to interview him either. It stated only that it “is unable to provide any additional information beyond what is already available in the official investigation report.”
18º North sent a list of questions for Mr. Garvin through the attorney that sued us on his behalf, Abraham ‘Abe’ Dabdoub. The questions sent related to Mr. Garvin’s relationship with Mr. Holness; his compensation for having served as a director of the entities connected to the Holnesses; how Westcon Construction came to be doing business with the various public bodies; whether he was required to make any declarations to the government entities about his business association with the Holnesses, among other questions.
Mr. Dabdoub responded, “I do not know the whereabouts of Mr Garvin. I know he has or had a business place in Liguinea and I no longer have a phone number.” Asked if he had an email address or knew the name of the business place, Mr. Dabdoub didn’t respond.
Mr. Garvin ceased being a director of Positive Jamaica Foundation Limited and West Central Saint Andrew Trust on November 1, 2016, about five months after the 18º North broadcast. The notification of him ceasing as a director of Positive Jamaica was received by the Companies Office in January 2017 and for West Central Saint Andrew Trust in April 2017. Mr. Holness also ceased being a director of both entities in December 2021, but the paperwork to remove him was only received by the Companies Office in July 2022.
Westcon Construction was removed from the registry of companies in 2018. The Companies Office told 18º North that its directors had made a request in January 2017, about eight months after the 18º North exposé, requesting that the company be struck off from the list of registered companies.
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This story has been updated from its original version to provide more clarity.
*Before it was replaced by the Integrity Commission, the Office of the Contractor General calculated that the values of the NWA contracts to Westcon between 2006 and 2009 was $33,787,368.32. This differs from the total contract value of $34,086,968.32 put forward by the NWA in its response to the now-defunct OCG.
**In its own investigation, 18º North found Revised CDF Operational Procedures from 2015 outlining that implementing agencies are to undertake procurement in accordance with the GOJ Procurement Handbook. However, that document would still have been after the SDC contracts in question were awarded in 2007 and 2009. We have requested under the Access to Information Act documents outlining any earlier procedures.
Though Positive Jamaica Foundation Ltd. and West Central Saint Andrew Trust are both registered at the Companies Office as companies limited by guarantee without share capital, the structure non-profits usually use, they are not officially registered as charities with the Department of Co-operatives and Friendly Societies, which would give them tax-exempt status.
The U.S. exchange rate used for the income of Positive Jamaica Foundation Ltd. was US$119.89:J$1, the average of the average annual sell rates from the Bank of Jamaica’s website for each of the years between 2012-2020 where there were financials. The exchange rate used for the values of the contracts to Westcon was US$74.03:J$1, the average of the average annual sell rates for each of the years the contracts were awarded between 2006 and 2009.