A protracted dispute over the fee charged by the Social Development Commission (SDC) for education projects under the Constituency Development Fund (CDF) deepened yesterday when members of the CDF committee rejected a suggestion that they take their request for a reduction to the SDC board.
Committee members, irked at the message delivered by head of the CDF Unit Moveta Monroe, described as disrespectful the suggestion which, she said, was made by SDC Executive Director Dr Dwayne Vernon when she met with him on Monday.
Monroe told the committee at its sitting at Gordon House that she had held discussions with Dr Vernon about the request to slash the fee by half, but he had insisted it was a policy issue that had to be taken to the SDC board.
“As a result, he is suggesting that the parliamentary committee try to meet with the board,” Monroe stated.
Dr Vernon has since told the
Jamaica Observer that, “At no time did I say the committee needs to meet with the board,” but at the same time maintained that the matter must go through the board.
Committee chairman Everald Warmington bridled at the idea. “He just doesn’t want to do it. This has been going on for years. We should not at any time be committed to any board. This is not a board decision and I have no intention (of meeting with the board) I am very disappointed in Dr Vernon and his attitude. It’s the height of disrespect to the committee,” he snapped, pointing out that the SDC was in no position to take that stance since it “owed” the CDF $174 million.
“We need to demand that they pay up that money. They need to start making some arrangement to pay that money,” he said.
Member Mikael Phillips agreed. “I think it is just a way of telling us from his desk, no… If it’s hardball (then) the monies that they owe to constituencies should be paid forthwith, if that is the attitude,” he said.
Phillips said that approximately 95 per cent of CDF education projects go through the SDC. “We are talking about over $200 million,” he argued.
The committee said it would take the matter to Parliament’s Public Administration and Appropriations Committee to have the SDC give account of how its adminstrative fees are used.
In his defence Dr Vernon said the CDF Unit hasn’t been representing the commission “in its truest sense”, adding that he had expressed to Monroe his concerns about misinformation that is being given to the parliamentary committee in the ongoing dispute. He said that the information that was being given to the committee was “not complimentary”.
“They are relying too much on information through a third party,” he said.
The executive director maintained that he could act without the permission of the board and that the matter still had not been formally placed before it.
“Reducing any fee is a policy decision, not an operational decision. I have to have directive from my board, or minister, or permanent secretary in terms of how the entity is to approach the CDF matter, whether we are to reduce or not. I am not refusing, I am simply pointing to where the authority is. Until a decision has been made, then there is nothing I can do,” he stated.
On the matter of the $174 million Dr Vernon said that this is not money that the SDC owes the CDF. “This is the balance that we have on our books for the CDF at the end of March 31, 2015, which includes projects that are actively being implemented,” he explained.
He emphasised, too, that the SDC earns, on average, only two per cent for all the CDF projects that it processes within a year, due to the fact that several categories of projects are exempted from administrative fees. He said the five per cent of the project cost that is charged on education projects is standard.