Cuban light bulb scandal deepens
Former minister weeps as Fraud Squad called in
BY ALICIA DUNKLEY Observer staff reporter email@example.com
Wednesday, November 07, 2007
A distressed former minister wept openly amid news that the Cuban light
bulb scandal, the latest to have burnt the previous People's National
Party (PNP) government, has been turned over to the police Fraud Squad.
In Parliament yesterday, Kern Spencer, the young junior minister who had
responsibility for the light bulb project, under Phillip Paulwell's
Ministry of Industry, Technology, Energy and Commerce, had to be
consoled by colleagues, as the new minister of energy, Clive Mullings,
unveiled more discrepancies in the unfolding saga.
Mullings wanted to know why some $49 million was supposedly paid to
Cuban volunteers on the project since Cuban authorities had said they
would pay the stipends to their nationals who had volunteered to work in
Jamaica to distribute four million free light bulbs.
He informed the House that the matter, which had previously been
referred to the Auditor-General and the Contractor-General, had now been
sent to the Fraud Squad and the Director of Public Prosecutions.
Saying that the situation smacked of "fraud", Mullings said he had been
told that the Cuban social workers had come at the request of the then
Jamaican Government, contrary to its later report that the involvement
of the volunteers was "a requirement by the Cuban Government to ensure
The minister's statements brought fresh taunting from government members
who yesterday demanded that Spencer explain the discrepancies. Spencer,
looking subdued and distressed, seemed willing to make an attempt to
clear himself, but was apparently dissuaded by his more seasoned colleagues.
This led to considerable taunting and cries of "Talk Kern talk. Tell
Jamaica how it go". When the accusations subsided, the political
neophyte who tried unsuccessfully to fight back the tears, was consoled
by Opposition Leader Portia Simpson Miller and Member of Parliament
Sharon Hay-Webster who went to be by his side.
Mullings, in his disclosure which first came to the attention of the
House two weeks ago, said a breakdown of the payments made by Universal
Management and Development Company Limited (UMDC), one of two companies
now under probe in connection with the project, had led to the latest
The energy minister said a review of the schedule of payments for the
period July 21, 2007 to August 31, 2007 had shown that payments of $49.7
million were paid out by UMDC supposedly for transportation, stipend and
accommodation for the Cubans, while on the day of the incorporation of
the company $352,500 was paid out for car rental for the Cubans and
accommodations at MICO Hostel.
"As I stated before, $85.6 million already disbursed to the UMDC is for
this same period. I note with grave concern that based on the above
summary, invoices submitted by UMDC are inclusive of the stipend for the
Cuban volunteers," Mullings said.
He also demanded to be told "who authorised the overpayment and who UMDC
paid the stipend to".
Attempts by several Opposition members, including former House Speaker
Michael Peart and newcomer Peter Bunting to have Mullings curtail his
statements since an official probe was underway, was spurned by the
minister who also rejected a suggestion by former agriculture minister,
Roger Clarke that "a supplemental stipend could have been paid".
"The member two weeks ago deferred responding to my statement. We are
now here and to date we have had no response….Am I now to be stopped
in my tracks because the member who elected to put off his response has
failed to do so? I shall not remain silent," Mullings insisted.
Mullings two weeks ago disclosed that some $114 million had already been
paid to distribute the 'free' fluorescent bulbs.
At the time he called into question the lack of proper procurement
procedures under the project with the involvement of UMDC, Caribbean
Communications and Media Network Limited to which nearly $90 million was
Mullings expressed discomfort with the fact that the two companies were
allegedly not registered as contractors nor suppliers with the National
Contracts Commission, and were only incorporated around the time the
islandwide distribution of the bulbs began last year.
The government also demanded that the contents of the report on the
project submitted to Opposition Leader Portia Simpson Miller by Spencer
and Paulwell be shared.
However, the Opposition, in a release issued to the media, said the
reports were now being examined by a small team, which is expected to
deliver their findings by the end of this week.
The team includes Opposition members Drs Peter Phillips and Omar Davies,
Senator A J Nicholson, party council secretary Easton Douglas, General
Secretary Donald Buchanan and Lisa Hanna, information spokesperson.