Mon | Sep 28, 2020

‘Made-up honour’ - CMU reimbursed Pinnock US$10k for receiving shady Socrates Award

Published:Sunday | January 19, 2020 | 12:00 AM

Allegations have surfaced in the British press that the ‘prestigious’ International Socrates Award bestowed on industry leaders and persons who have gained significant achievements in academia, particularly in developing countries, and including president of the Caribbean Maritime University (CMU), Fritz Pinnock, was a ‘made-up honour’.


The award bestowed on Pinnock in 2016 cost taxpayers US$10,000 (or J$1.3 million at the current exchange rate), according to Auditor General Pamela Monroe Ellis’ findings in a special audit report, seen by The Gleaner, on allegations of malpractice at the scandal-hit CMU.

Monroe Ellis said in her recommendations that the “circumstances surrounding the reimbursement of US$10,000 in respect of the president’s international award must be reviewed to ensure that reimbursement was appropriate”.

Further, the auditor general said that, in accordance with the Financial Administration and Audit (FAA) Act, Dr Grace McLean, the acting permanent secretary in the education ministry, should “cause an investigation to determine whether the award accords any benefit to CMU, and also investigate the allegations outlined in the overseas press, in order to make a determination regarding recovery of sums associated with the award”.

A document on the website of the Port Management Association of Jamaica said the award meant that Pinnock was considered one of the world’s 20 best professionals from all continents for his “outstanding achievements in professional activities and contribution to intellectual development in government management, business and the economy of today’s society”.

The document stated that Pinnock was humbled by the award and dedicated it to the management and staff of the then CMI (Caribbean Maritime Institute) and his fellow educators in Jamaica and industry leaders in the region.

The creators of the honour said the International Socrates Award is made of precious metals with a Socrates image in profile which is covered with pure gold and encrusted with Swarowski crystals.

Socrates was a classic Greek (Athenian) philosopher credited as one of the founders of Western philosophy, and as being the first moral philosopher of the Western ethical tradition of thought.

Monroe Ellis said that the sum paid back to the president by the CMU was for costs associated with a trip he made to Oxford in the United Kingdom in 2016 to collect the award.

It was also revealed by the auditor general that the amount reimbursed to Pinnock was in excess of the expenditure of US$3,791.82, approved by the Cabinet secretary.

The award, according to Monroe Ellis, “appeared to be of a personal nature and we noted that the (CMU) Council did not grant approval for CMU to absorb the cost of the president’s participation at the award ceremony”.

And, the CMU records revealed that the charge was incurred by the president for the ‘premium participant package’, including personal participation in the overseas summit held in the United Kingdom in December 2016.

Monroe Ellis noted that the terms and conditions of the award required that, upon acceptance, recipients make payments to cover administrative costs and a five-year licence to use the award brand, for public relations and marketing purposes.

The Ministry of Education, Youth and Information told the auditor general that “international awards of this nature are disconnected from countries and institutions”.

Further, the ministry said that prior to travelling to collect the award, Pinnock received Cabinet’s approval to travel to China.

“To avoid incurring additional expenses and, based on the time to travel to receive the award, the trips ran concurrently,” the ministry added.

At the same time, the CMU said the per diem paid was intended to cover accommodation, meals and incidentals related to the president’s attendance at the ceremony and visits to universities in the United Kingdom.

However, the auditor general was unable to validate the president’s visits to the stated universities since CMU only presented a table listing the date, event, time and venue covering the period December 19, 2016 to January 2, 2017.

“There was no evidence that the president submitted a report to the council regarding the outcome of the visits,” the auditor general pointed out.

On October 29, 2018, The Telegraph reported that Ukrainian businessmen were exploiting Oxford University’s global reputation by selling millions of pounds worth of fake awards.

The British media entity said the company behind the awards had no link to Oxford University but used the prestigious institution’s name, as well as photographs of Oxford in its advertising material, to sell invented prizes such as the ‘International Socrates Award’ for up to £9,300.

It is reported that mass emails are sent to businesses and wealthy individuals in developing countries, congratulating them on being nominated for an award.

Those who reply expressing interest are then asked to pay several thousand pounds for a simple ‘pay-to-play’ award, and invited to an awards ceremony at Oxford Town Hall, The Telegraph reported.

The ceremony is imbued with much pomp and pageantry, including the roll out of red carpet, trumpeters, playing of the bagpipe, a man in a yeoman warder’s costume and a Union Jack procession.

The Telegraph, in its report, noted that the company’s business model was not illegal, because while universities must be accredited to award degrees, no legislation exists to prevent companies from marketing vaguely defined ‘awards’.

The University of Oxford told The Telegraph that the company responsible for the awards was not affiliated or otherwise linked to the university.

Upon receiving his award in 2016, several high-profile persons from Jamaica and across the region rushed to heap accolades on the CMU president. Then minister of transport and mining, Mike Henry, said “heartiest congratulations to him for receiving the Socrates Award. It is a well-earned honour and I am pleased that he continues to be part of this wonderful nation called Jamaica”.

Then board chairman of the CMI, Hyacinth Bennett, said: “Heartiest congratulations Dr Pinnock! Indeed, your remarkable achievement has made CMI, and by extension Jamaica, immeasurably proud. We praise the Lord for his divine favour on you.”

The now-sacked education minister, Ruel Reid, also extended congratulations to Pinnock.

“The Ministry of Education, Youth and Information celebrates your success as a dedicated and committed educator and administrator and thank you for your partnership in education.”

Several attempts to reach the sponsors and promoters of the International Socrates Award proved futile as their number rang without answer.