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$90M HAJ BREACH

Chairman cites massive project variation; sacked MD says ‘I’ll never wear short pants’ in defence of integrity

Published:Wednesday | November 9, 2022 | 12:11 AMEdmond Campbell/Senior Staff Reporter
Dr Patrick Thelwell, fired managing director of the Housing Agency of Jamaica.
Dr Patrick Thelwell, fired managing director of the Housing Agency of Jamaica.
Norman Brown, chairman of the Housing Agency of Jamaica.
Norman Brown, chairman of the Housing Agency of Jamaica.
The Housing Agency of Jamaica headquarters located at 13 Caledonia Avenue, Kingston 5. Chairman Norman Brown says a policy breach amounted to $90 million and counting in variations or overruns.
The Housing Agency of Jamaica headquarters located at 13 Caledonia Avenue, Kingston 5. Chairman Norman Brown says a policy breach amounted to $90 million and counting in variations or overruns.
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Former managing director of the Housing Agency of Jamaica (HAJ), Dr Patrick Thelwell, says he was made a scapegoat when the board of the public body terminated his contract last Friday in the wake of an audit that uncovered a policy breach that Chairman Norman Brown revealed amounted to more than $90 million in variations.

Thelwell declared emphatically that he had done nothing to breach the HAJ policy, charging that the statement announcing his separation from the agency sent a wrong signal that could damage his reputation.

On Monday, Robert Morgan, the de facto information minister, said that based on the findings of an internal audit, the board took the decision to terminate Thelwell’s contract with effect from November 4.

But Brown indicated in a Gleaner interview on Tuesday that a serious breach occurred at the agency in the form of cost variation on a project which led to the payout of significant sums without the approval of the board.

While not giving the specific sums involved in the cost variation, Brown confirmed that it was less than $100 million.

He said that the HAJ has one of the strongest policies relating to cost variation and any breach of this procedure, without the assent of the board, could attract strong sanctions.

“From I have been on that board as chairman, there is a company policy that any variation must be approved by the board,” he said.

“Our concern is that the management was not being done, as per policy, and we would not want that to happen under our watch,” he added.

Brown said that if the board had failed to act by terminating Thelwell’s contract, he would have had to hand in his resignation as chairman.

However, Thelwell said that the incident that led to his sacking started in January this year and he discovered the issue in July.

Without going into details, the former managing director said he had dialogue with the chairman and took the matter to the board over the period of August to October.

“We cauterised the situation and almost everybody that was involved resigned from the organisation,” Thelwell told The Gleaner, noting that three persons involved in the breach had resigned.

Thelwell said he had sent memos to the Human Resources Department and internal auditors urging them to conduct an audit.

“There needs to be a deeper probe because the culpable people, the people who have done the damage, ought to be punished, not me. I am being punished by virtue of being the managing director. How can that be?” Thelwell questioned.

Declaring his innocence in what has been deemed a policy breach, the former HAJ boss said that he relied on the recommendation made to him for “payment of certificates from the technical team”.

Having given some 40 years of service to the Government, Thelwell said the manner in which his contract was terminated has forced him to take steps to mitigate the impact on his reputation.

“I will never wear short pants. I don’t do anything. I don’t worry about the deeper probe. I invite a deeper probe,” he said.

However, Brown argued that the agency had no other issue with Thelwell personally besides his management failure.

“I have no reason to think that Dr Thelwell is anything other than a good person and decent man, but when it comes to leading an organisation, you have to bear responsibility,” Brown said.

The HAJ chairman said that the public body was considering calling in an external competent body to determine if there were further breaches.

Brown told The Gleaner that the agency was looking at other employees to determine whether they had carried out their duties in providing information through the appropriate channels.

Commenting on the termination of his contract, Thelwell said when he met with Brown on Friday, he was asked to resign.

The former managing director said that he resisted that suggestion, noting that if he had resigned, he would only be given three months’ pay.

With the termination of his three-year contract, Thelwell said that his attorney would negotiate a separation package with the HAJ.

edmond.campbell@gleanerjm.com