Official claims multimillion school fraud

MONTEGO BAY, St James – Chairman of St James High School in this western city, Christopher McCurdy wants the immediate intervention of the Ministry of Education (MOE) after he confirmed a multi-million financial discrepancy at the institution.

McCurdy made the disclosure in a letter addressed to MOE’s director of Region Four, Dr Michelle Pinnock, on Friday afternoon. A copy of the letter was obtained by the Jamaica Observer.

According to McCurdy, the board has recognised some irregularities in the handling of the school’s financial resources.

“As chairman of the board of management, I regret to inform the Ministry of Education and Youth of egregious financial irregularities that have been uncovered in recent weeks at the institution. These revelations have shone a harsh light upon what has now emerged as a pattern of mismanagement, procedural negligence, a culture of cronyism and nepotism that has plagued our school for far too long,” the chairman said.

He said that the board came across the discrepancies after realising that cheques that were set to be brought before the joint finance and procurement committee were “inexplicably taken to the secondary signatory on the school’s account without board approval.

“This serious derogation from standard procedure occurred without my consent or approval, raising serious concerns about the integrity of our school’s financial processes,” bemoaned McCurdy.

The chairman stated that recently, over $3 million was transferred from the school to a supplier without the board’s approval.

“It turns out that this incident is the latest in a series of systemic operational issues that have plagued St James High School for several years. The school administration’s frequent lack of adherence to established procedures, as mandated by the Ministry of Education and Youth, has placed the school’s financial stability and reputation in jeopardy,” McCurdy lamented.

McCurdy also accused the school’s administration of portraying biases in the carrying out of its duties and the procurement of services.

“It is disheartening to note that cronyism and nepotism have reached alarming levels within the school’s administration. Appointments, promotions, and financial decisions have often been influenced more by personal connections than merit, thereby undermining the institution’s commitment to fairness and excellence in education,” he said.

McCurdy stated that after a meeting of the school’s board on Thursday, he is therefore calling on the education ministry to investigate the matter.

“Considering the foregoing, the council members of the board have recommended to the Ministry of Education and Youth that the principal, bursar, and chairman of the finance committee be placed on a leave of absence to facilitate a forensic investigation into the operational and financial management of St James High School,” the chairman said.

Speaking to the Sunday Observer Friday evening, McCurdy explained that red flags were raised by the board, due to the belief that payments were being duplicated. He said this was what triggered an internal probe into the handling of the school’s money.

“What you are referring to in the letter that was sent to the ministry is accurate; it is based on what I have observed as the board chair. There were a series of cheques that were held, pending an internal audit, because we suspect that there could have been duplicate payments and they were unauthorised,” he explained.

McCurdy added, “Certain procedures that were established by the ministry were not followed, so those cheques were held pending an internal investigation by the joint finance and procurement committee. Those committees were to meet, look at what was happening, and present a report that would have been brought back to the board for a decision to be made for payment. However, those cheques were removed from the school.”

The chairman said that in addition to the secondary signatory signing for the cheques, another individual “signed to receive the cheque on behalf of the supplier without even an authorisation letter for them to do so.

“We found that these things are very damning and, of course, my biggest concern is that I am not sure how much more of this has taken place or how long this has been going on at the institution. So we want to get an audit to ensure that it is not deeper than what we have uncovered,” he told the Sunday Observer.

McCurdy has expressed a commitment to sharing updates on the matter with concerned stakeholders.

“The board of management understands the concerns that our school family and the wider community will have in response to these findings. We pledge utmost transparency and accountability throughout this period. St James High School is an integral part of our community, and we are fully committed to resolving the issues and rebuilding trust. As chairman of the board, I will personally oversee the timely implementation of corrective measures, and I commit to providing regular updates to all stakeholders as we work towards a brighter and more accountable future for St James High School,” he said.

Repeated attempts to contact the school’s Principal Joseph Williams were unsuccessful. However, on Saturday, Dr Pinnock told the Sunday Observer that she was unable to comment on the matter at the moment due to her responding to a personal emergency.