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August 05
07:25 2019

Monday August 5th. 2019 –

A Memorandum from the Ministry of Finance which was circulated to the media last week, purportedly showed approval from the Ministry for a construction contract worth more than $1.6 Million, which was awarded to Joehann Construction and Engineering Ltd., a company owned by the brother of Minister Rene Montero.

In the memo was a claim that the funds would be a grant from NHI Funds managed by the Social Security Board (SSB). The problem, however, is that only the SSB is authorized to approve any such request and there is legislation in place which stipulates that money from the NHI fund cannot be used for any other purpose.


Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Dean Barrow, in a phone call with the Reporter on Thursday vehemently denied having any knowledge of any such approval and said he had sent for clarity on the matter himself. He explained that the memo sent by the Ministry of Finance and signed by the Deputy Financial Secretary, Artemio Osorio, was not granting any approval of those funds. “It is the Ministry of Health that said that the funds would come from the NHI reserve, so they no doubt know how they will get it via the SSB Board but ‘da nuh Finance di find’ the money, it is the Ministry of Health,” Barrow said.

“All Finance was doing was making clear ‘You won’t come to us [Ministry of Finance] for any funds, you have already said the funds will come from NHI. How you get it from NHI, that’s your business,’” Barrow said. Financial Secretary Joseph Waight also spoke to the Reporter on Thursday and reiterated Barrow’s position. He explained that there is a process for Ministries to follow when seeking funding, and further noted that the Ministry of Finance’s memo was only repeating what was stated in the request made by the Ministry of Health. Waight said the Ministry of Finance would never presume to have any authority in the management of SSB funds and said that the Ministry of Health still needs approval from the SSB Board, which it may or may not grant.

Waight, as well as another senior SSB source, told the Reporter it seems the Ministry of Health “put the cart before the horse.” Our SSB source said simply: “They screwed up!” The Reporter is informed, however, that no funds have yet been disbursed as the SSB must give the ultimate approval before any money is disbursed from SSB accounts. Our source also emphasized that none of the funds in consideration are from citizen contributions but rather from the NHI reserve fund, which is a subvention from the government. We were also told that GOB would have been able to access the funds either way if it decided to, but the matter is subject to due process.

Waight additionally told the Reporter that the Ministry was satisfied that the awarding of the contract was done under a transparent and legal tendering process. We asked about the negative public perception some may have because of the contract being awarded to a sitting minister’s brother and while he acknowledged there may be detractors, he said that does not make it inherently wrong as the tendering process criteria was met. We also tried to contact the Minister of Health, Pablo Marin for comment on the matter but we were unable to reach him or his CEO George Gough, who has been inaccessible since he was appointed to that position.

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