Senator Lambert Brown demands answers about the J$4-MILLION in Ruel Reid's helper's account

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lambert-brown.jpgOpposition Senator Lambert Brown has said household helper Doreen Miller, who has found herself at the centre of the scandal involving the former Minister of Education, Ruel Reid, has declared that she did not receive any of the nearly $4 million found in an account bearing her name.

That, and other matters involving Reid and activities at the Caribbean Maritime University (CMU) over which the Ministry of Education has oversight responsibility, are now part of several investigations.

Brown's comment about Miller, and his insistence on going down a certain path during the debate on Friday on the Act to Amend the Petroleum Act, led to Senate President Tom Tavares-Finson eventually ruling that Brown could take no further part in the debate.

That led to a walkout by Opposition Senators.

The Petroleum Act was amended to allow for the transfer of J$208 billion from the PetroCaribe Fund to the Consolidated Fund. It was previously passed in the House of Representatives.

Brown started out by stating that: "The public is aware of strange payments through the CMU to a so-called household helper of the then Minister Ruel Reid.

The opposition Senator said he had used the word 'so-called' deliberately.

"I want to know if that almost $4 million allegedly instructed to be paid to Miss Doreen Miller, the so-called household helper of (former) minister Ruel Reid came out of any of that PetroCaribe money that went to the CMU," said Brown.

Stating that it was important to know whether Miller had received any of the money, Brown answered his own question.

"I don't need an answer from the government. Miss Miller has spoken to me and she said not a single cent of the money came to her," said Brown who attempted to continue but was cut off by Tavares-Finson.

"Senator Brown, with the greatest of respect, if that be the case maybe you need to give a statement to the PAAC (Public Administration and Appropriations Committee of the parliament) or to the police."

"Anybody want the statement come and ask me for it," Brown responded.

Tavares-Finson appealed to Brown to stick to the script by ensuring his presentation was relevant to the specific legislation that was being debated.

However, Brown would persist. He proceeded to ask whether Miller was asked to open a bank account for which the bank card and the bank information were controlled by a family member of Reid's.

At this time Pearnel Charles Jr., who was acting as Leader of Government Business in the Senate, rose on what was the first of a handful of points of order from him.

Charles Jr told Brown that his presentation was not relevant to the debate but the Opposition Senator insisted that clauses 4 and 6b of the bill spoke to the liability of the PetroCaribe Fund.

"And I read those and I'm therefore asking about the liability. Who has the liability for those money which went through the CMU to this fund....because I'm aware that the account of Miss Miller that she opened, was controlled by family members of the then minister so I want to know who is going to pay it back," said Brown.

He said the Opposition was not opposed to the transfer of the $208 billion from the PetroCaribe Fund to the Consolidated Fund, rather he said it was concerned about how well the money will be spent

Brown noted that the Member of Parliament for North Clarendon, Horace Dalley, during the House debate on the bill had asked the Energy Minister Fayval Williams whether any funds ($400 million) were sent to the CMU from the PetroCaribe Fund. Brown noted that the minister did not provide an answer. On Friday, Brown questioned whether the money sent to the CMU is a liability that has to be paid back.

"Given what I have heard coming out of the parliamentary committee about the CMU, (I want to know) whether any of this PetroCaribe money is part of a kickback we are operating through the CMU, a kickback scheme to a particular former minister of government," said Brown.

At this point, Tavares-Finson reminded Brown that he had already made a ruling about relevance and told him to move on.

"If you wish to deal with this issue there are other ways to deal with it," the Senate President said.

But, Brown would not relent, declaring that "it is important that we don't blame Doreen Miller for the CMU money".

When a senator enquired about his reason for mentioning Miller, Brown said: "I have permission so to do, I have permission so to do. She wants her name cleared."

Government Senator Charles Sinclair told Brown the Senate was "not the place to clear the lady's name."

"It is inappropriate for the senator (Brown) to be detailing matters that are under investigation; not only details, but he's giving particulars, arising from his own investigation which in my view, could compromise the investigation that is being carried out and it should not be permitted," said Government Senator, Ransford Braham.

At this stage, Tavares-Finson warned Brown. He said: "Senator Brown, I have made the ruling so continue down that road at your own peril." Brown fired back stating that he had no fear when he was on the quest for the truth. Tavares-Finson responded pointing out that Brown had been calling the names of people who have not been convicted before any court.

"You're calling names in a matter that the whole country knows is under investigation," he added.

At this point, Opposition Senator KD Knight told Tavares-Finson that Brown should be allowed to continue in the public interest but the president would not budge on what should be addressed in the debate to which Brown responded: "My freedom of speech is not going to be muzzled." At one stage Brown said it was his purpose to clear Miller's name.

"In relation to that aspect of your presentation if you return there I'm going to bring your presentation to a close," Tavares-Finson responded.

Still defiant, Brown said: "Mr President I don't need to engage you on this because more will come out later on."

The issue of relevance was again raised when Brown asked whether any of the $208 billion being transferred from the PetroCaribe Fund to the Consolidated Fund would be spent to upgrade the consular service. He asked the question in the context of the alleged mistreatment of five Jamaican fishermen by the United States coast guard against which the men have since taken legal action. During the numerous interventions and points of order from the government side, Opposition Senator Wentworth Skeffrey could be heard asking "how unno so nervous, how unno so nervous?"

The back and forth saw Brown asking whether the President had lost control of the Senate after he was interrupted for the umpteenth time.

"Continue and you will find out," Tavares-Finson quipped.

Fifteen minutes later, Brown proposed the setting up of a broad-based entity similar to EPOC (Economic Programme Oversight Committee) to oversee how the $208 billion is spent. He then made mention of several scandals that have dogged the Jamaica Labour Party government since the party retook the reins of government in 2016. Brown then warned that "this money could go down the drain because I have seen two ministers separated for at least mismanagement and based on what some people are saying inside the parliamentary chamber at least one could very well..."

The Opposition senator did not finish the statement as he could be heard responding to a colleague telling him to be careful by asking "careful of what?" At the same time, Senator Braham rose on a point order stating that he did not want Brown to finish the statement. Braham pointed out that Brown was at least insinuating the names of persons in wrongdoing. "It's not the function of this chamber to convict anybody ...it's a dangerous trend," Braham said.

At this point, the Senate president pointed to section 43 (1) of the standing orders and ruled that Brown discontinue his presentation resulting in the opposition senators walking out of the chamber.

While government members applauded the ruling, Brown was not done. On his way out the chamber, he could be heard shouting "the commissioner of police has said a minister is under criminal investigation."

Police Commissioner Major General Antony Anderson has said that Reid is under a criminal probe.

Following the walkout, the sitting continued and the bill was eventually passed without amendment.

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