Black Immigrant Daily News
This week’s featured development as Newsmaker of the Week just ended is the ministerial career of Fayval Williams leading up to her stewardship of the Education and Youth Ministry, including the rocky patch she is now navigating.
With several issues, including teacher migration and the controversial Jamaica Teaching Council (JTC) Bill threatening to mar her tenure as Education and Youth Minister, many believe that Fayval Williams is on borrowed time in the Cabinet, or at least in the ministry she now heads.
Williams’ stewardship of the portfolio first came under sharp scrutiny two weeks ago when Opposition Spokesman on Education and Training, Senator Damion Crawford, called for her to change or be relieved of the ministerial portfolio if she fails to change her approach to the tasks at hand and improve on the energy she is demonstrating as the team leader..
Crawford made the call relative to Williams’ response to the teacher migration issue, which she said is not of major concern, and other issues which he said have the potential to prevent a smooth start of the new school year.
Williams fired back, defending her stewardship of the ministry and insisting that enough teachers are leaving tertiary institutions to fill the available vacancies.
Again, questions began to be asked on Wednesday whether Williams should remain in the portfolio after teachers gave a resounding “no” to the minister’s call for an “amen” for the new, mandatory Sixth Form Pathways Programme, at the Jamaica Teachers’ Association (JTA) annual conference in Montego Bay, St James.
Though criticisms of her stewardship of the portfolio is growing, many individuals on social media are defending Williams, arguing that she is competent, and contending that educators are being disrespectful of her efforts.
On that point, Loop News decided to take a look at Williams’ ministerial career before the recent questions around her leadership style hit the front burner. In essence, how did Williams get to this point in her political and ministerial career?
By profession, Fayval Williams is a chartered financial analyst and a former director of Kingston Properties Limited.
Prior to returning to Jamaica, Williams worked extensively in the United States with several corporate entities. She was Senior Vice President at Putnam Investments in Boston, a top-10 global mutual fund manager.
During the period of September 2002 to February 2004, Williams consulted with Jamaica Money Market Brokers (JMMB) in the areas of market risk management and investment research, and led that company’s efforts to develop investment research capabilities, according to the Jamaica Information Service (JIS).
Also, in 2004, Williams consulted with the Financial Services Commission (FSC) in the area of research and policy.
Prior to Kingston Properties, Williams served as Chief Investment Officer of JMMB Limited from March 2005 to September 2007, with investment responsibilities spanning the trading department, investment research and pensions.
During the Jamaica Labour Party’s (JLP’s) tenure in Opposition between December 2011 and February 2016, Williams was named as a member of the party’s Economic Advisory Council in 2014.
She also served as Deputy Spokesperson on Finance and as the party’s caretaker for Eastern St Andrew.
She tasted victory at the polls in the 2016 General Elections in the constituency, and her first Government appointment was that of State Minister in the Ministry of Finance and the Public Service under the stewardship of then Finance Minister, Audley Shaw.
Williams would serve in that capacity between March 7, 2016 and March 26, 2018, until Dr Nigel Clarke was appointed Minister of Finance and the Public Service.
Under Clarke’s stewardship, Williams served as Minister without Portfolio in the Finance Ministry between March 27, 2018 and February 13, 2019.
During her tenures under both Shaw and Clarke as portfolio heads, Williams had a pretty quiet stint as she assisted in managing the country’s financial affairs. Specifically, she was also hailed for her negotiating skills at the finance ministry.
She got her first taste at the handling of her first full ministry when she was appointed Minister of Science, Energy and Technology on February 14, 2019.
The portfolio was previously held by Prime Minister Andrew Holness after the resignation of Dr Andrew Wheatley on July 30, 2018. At that time, Wheatley stepped aside due to the corruption scandals that had emerged at Petrojam and National Energy Solutions Limited (NESOL), which rocked the Government for several months.
At the time of Williams’ appointment, Holness stated: “We have come a far way. I am therefore confident that with the changes set in motion, I can now refocus my attention and effort on other pressing areas of Government.”
Williams was also joined at the Science, Energy and Technology Ministry by veteran Permanent Secretary Carol Palmer, who was shifted from the Ministry of Justice.
Williams’ leadership of the ministry went without controversy, in contrast to some points during Wheatley’s tenure as the minister, and even some points way before then under another administration. There appeared to be much focus on transforming the ministry and bringing back an air of credibility to the sometimes scandal-plagued portfolio.
Fast forward to the September 2020 General Elections in which Williams retained the Eastern St Andrew seat by defeating the People’s National Party’s (PNP) Veneisha Phillips.
The much-anticipated Cabinet announcements that followed came with some shocks for public commentators, including Williams being shifted to the then Ministry of Education, Youth and Information.
Commentators suggested that given the scandals that had just before erupted at the Education Ministry under former Senator Ruel Reid stewardship, the portfolio required someone more strong-willed to carry on the efforts of veteran politician Karl Samuda, who served in the ministry between March 2019 and September 2020.
Karl Samuda who preceded Fayval Williams at the Ministry of Education.
Given Williams’ predominantly financial background as well, many thought the Education Ministry was not the right fit for her skills.
However, the decision was made to hand Williams the very challenging ministry, with Robert Nesta Morgan being appointed to assist as State Minister.
The COVID-19 pandemic and the consequent learning loss were major issues of focus for the new team of Williams and Morgan in education.
In May 2021, Williams revealed that more than 120,000 students across Jamaica had been absent from classes as teaching became accessible primarily online, due to the COVID-19 public health challenges.
Amid criticisms over the sustainability of the online modality of learning and the absence of students, Williams said initiatives were being introduced to engage some of the students who were unable to access the virtual learning modality.
These included the launch of a mobile intervention programme that involved dispatching of instructors in communities to find students. However, the COVID-19 pandemic gradually halted such initiatives.
A spike in COVID-19 cases between August and September 2021, forced school online for a second year.
By December 2021, Williams announced that large primary schools had received the greenlight from Cabinet for a return to face-to-face learning, while secondary schools that had achieved a 65 per cent vaccination rate of their student population would be allowed to reopen their doors.
Two months before that announcement, a damning auditor general report put the Education, Youth and Information Ministry in the negative spotlight.
Dr Grace McLean, the then Acting Permanent Secretary in the ministry, was sent on leave in October 2021, following Auditor General Pamela Monroe-Ellis urging Williams to refer her report into the operations of the Joint Committee for Tertiary Education (JCTE) to the police or an anti-corruption agency, for investigation.
William acted on the advice, and the report was referred. Consequently, the Financial Investigations Division (FID) and the Major Organised Crime and Anti-Corruption Agency (MOCA) began conducting probes into the matter of funds that were questionably transferred to the JCTE.
According to the auditor general’s findings, approximately $124 million that was given to the JCTE by the Education Ministry “cannot be accounted for” and has been deemed as a “loss of Government funds”.
The JCTE is a special advisory committee, with the Education Ministry having portfolio responsibility for it.
Dr Grace McLean
However, the JCTE was allegedly privatised by its chairman, Monroe-Ellis said, adding that McLean said at a meeting last year, that she had no knowledge of that development.
Despite the privatisation of the committee, McLean reportedly transferred $11 million to the JCTE between April and June 2020, this within a scenario in which the auditor general failed in bids to acquire accounting documents from the committee.
Monroe-Ellis called for McLean to be surcharged for the ‘lost’ funds, and that matter is reportedly before the courts.
Maureen Dwyer replaced McLean as Acting Permanent Secretary, while Dr Kasan Troupe remained as Acting Chief Education Officer.
Possibly the first signs of public discontent with Williams’ leadership of the Education Ministry came in December of last year when President of the Jamaica Association of Principals of Secondary Schools (JAPSS), Livern Wright, gave the ministry a failing grade.
Wright, who is Principal of William Knibb High School in Trelawny, made a Facebook post in which he insisted that the Andrew Holness Administration had failed to properly manage the education sector.
“Our Ministry of Education is the worst I have seen it, and we must not be afraid to call it out in the interest of our country,” said Wright in the Facebook post.
“(It is) mired in corruption, poor leadership, mindless policies and a deaf top tier. Education is on a slippery slope.”
Wright also said the leadership of the ministry had reached crisis proportions and had become equally distressing.
The JAPPS head said it was time to challenge the leadership of the ministry, “who continue to be impressed with themselves while many who know better are aghast at the inept and jaundiced leadership weighing down (the) Education Ministry.”
However, Williams fired back, calling for Wright to state the specifics that he was not satisfied with.
“… I know that when I look back at the efforts of the Education Ministry, they are commendable,” said Williams to the media in December of last year.
The minister claimed that “Herculean” efforts have been made to keep the island’s students on track even amid the suspension of face-to-face classes.
Additionally, she said the ministry had made efforts to secure laptops and tablets for teachers and students, and broadcasted lessons on television and radio to support the continuation of education.
On January 5, 2022, Williams was brought into the spotlight once more, along with her State Minister, Robert Morgan, after the Finance and the Public Service Ministry shot down statements made by both earlier in the day, that the Finance Ministry had taken surcharge action against then Acting Permanent Secretary (on leave) in the Education Ministry, Dr Grace McLean.
The Finance Ministry also rejected assertions from Williams that similar action had been taken against Permanent Secretary Dean-Roy Bernard, who is embroiled in a court battle with the Government over his desire to be officially reinstated to the position within the Education Ministry.
Williams made the statements at a post-Cabinet press briefing, and the Finance Ministry issued the rebuttal statement on the matter later in the same day.
“With reference to media reports today regarding the issue of surcharges, the Ministry of Finance and the Public Service hereby advises that it is currently in the process of gathering and reviewing information to inform evaluation of the recommendation made by the auditor general for surcharge of Mr Dean-Roy Bernard and Mrs Grace McLean,” the statement said.
“All this time no surcharge has been issued,” it added.
A surcharge is a fine levied against civil servants who have been found to be derelict in their duties, and as such, have caused the Government financial losses.
McLean and Bernard are believed to have been the senior officers who were cited by Monroe-Ellis relative to the reported failure to account for approximately $124 million that was given to the JCTE by the Education Ministry.
“Surcharge action was taken by the Ministry of Finance and the Public Service, and letters would have been written to our (present) permanent secretary (acting) in that regard, and I know that she has taken the necessary steps to deliver the letters that would have come to her,” said Williams at an earlier post-Cabinet press briefing then.
In responding to a follow-up question at the same press briefing, then State Minister in the Education Ministry, Robert Morgan, said the surcharge letters “have been delivered to the persons in question”.
He added that, “They have 30 days to respond (or) activate whatever personal action they may seek to take in that regard.”
The Finance Ministry flatly rebutted all of those statements.
Later in January 2022 , Prime Minister Andrew Holness hinted that a shake-up of his Cabinet was imminent, and many political observers pointed fingers at Williams as one of those to be reassigned to a new ministry.
However, political observers were left stunned, as Williams survived the reshuffle and held on to the Education and Youth portfolio.
The Information arm of that ministry was transferred to the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM), along with Morgan, who has since been the Minister without Portfolio in OPM with responsibility for information.
Alone as minister in the Education and Youth Ministry , Williams continued her duties.
But questions about her leadership style came back to the fore recently when PNP spokespersons pointed to what was described as her “disrespectful approach” to the migration of local teachers in search of better compensation.
Specifically, Damion Crawford also said aside from teacher migration, the lack of infrastructure and rental books are major issues ahead of the September 5 start of the new school year.
When asked two weeks ago if he is calling for a change in leadership at the Education Ministry, Crawford said: “We are saying that the minister either needs to be changed or to be changed based on her ability to change.”
Opposition Spokesman on Education and Training, Senator Damion Crawford (foreground at left), taking potshots at Education and Youth Minister, Fayval Williams (pictured at right in an inserted file photo), at a press briefing in St Andrew just over two weeks ago.
In elaborating on that roundabout statement, Crawford said: “There are two methods of change. You can change the person or the person can change.
“So if the minister, at current, is incapable to get greater vigour and vitality as it relates to the management of the education system, (and) if she is incapable to exert the energy and interest and excitement that it demands, then the minister needs to change,” the Opposition senator indicated.
“However, I believe that the first call is for the minister to understand and accept her need to change, and to indicate to the public that she can do better, and she not just misunderstand the circumstances that face the education system,” said Crawford.
In response to Crawford’s call for her to change, Williams said she has led several changes at the Education Ministry and she will continue her efforts to solve the issues she inherited from previous ministers.
At a press conference last Monday, Williams announced that between July and August 22, an estimated 167 teachers had resigned from public school nationally.
However, she said 964 specialist teachers, plus retired teachers and persons with first degrees in subject areas without teaching diplomas, were available to be employed in the sector.
The JTA, just like parents and some principals, is still nervously anticipating what will occur on September 5, with more resignation and/or migration of teachers expected.
Newly installed JTA President, La Sonja Harrison, who was speaking to the media, said the statistics revealed that of some 600 teachers they surveyed who would not be returning to the classroom, 43 per cent are resigning, 44 per cent are on leave, and 13 per cent have retired.
Another vexed issue plaguing the stewardship of Williams as Education and Youth Minister is the controversial JTC Bill.
At her press conference on Monday, Williams said university graduates without teaching qualifications could be employed by principals to fill vacancies.
But many educational professionals are questioning the seemingly paradoxical nature of that proposed solution to the large number of teacher vacancies, being that a provision under the JTC Bill stipulates that teachers must be licensed to serve, to avoid a potential fine of $500,000.
However, the minister, in media interviews, has sought to downplay any concerns regarding that aspect of the Bill.
She said the situation of employing university graduates without teaching degrees is another reasons why there is a reconsideration of some aspects of the Bill.
She noted that the JTC Bill is flexible, thus allowing specialists to enter the teaching sphere, and therefore, the proposed move would not necessarily be a breach.
Some teachers, however, are unconvinced by the minister’s claims. Significant number of them are claiming that the fine and other requirements under the JTC Bill will force many teachers to resign.
“The JTC Bill in its current state continues to plague us. The multiplicity of reasons resulted in the exodus of teachers from this island nation to take up better remuneration packages in North America, Europe, Asia and as far as the Middle East,” claimed JTA President, La Sonja Harrison, at the union’s annual conference this week.
Also at that conference, Williams came under fire from some teachers regarding the anticipated mandatory Sixth Form Pathways Programme.
Already, some 17,000 students have registered for the programme, according to Williams, who received a resounding “no” from teachers at the JTA conference to her call for an “amen” to the additional two years for the island’s students in the high school system.
That “no” from the teachers could be borne out of the reality that several schools are without the additional classrooms and educators that are required for the programme to be successful.
Linton Weir, Principal of St Catherine-based Old Harbour High School, in a radio interview last week, said he is faced with the challenge of finding more space to accommodate the students who are applying for the programme.
Additionally, he lamented that additional teachers are required for the programme.
“We will not be able to absorb them (the students) because we don’t have the space to absorb them and, two, we don’t have the teacher personnel to absorb them,” Weir indicated.
Raymon Treasure, Principal of York Castle High School in St Ann, also said, in the same radio interview, that he would not be able to absorb all the grade 11 students who graduated to the new sixth form programme.
Numerically, he said his school can only facilitate 150 of the 225 graduates under the Sixth Form Pathways Programme.
Some social media users have lashed the teachers for being purportedly rude in responding negatively to Williams at the JTA conference in her efforts to drum up support for the programme.
“We need to get rid of the JTA and get rid of some teachers out the classrooms, because the campaign to remove Fayval (Williams) won’t work because she is good for the Education Ministry and she is transforming it. MY OPINION,” wrote Claudette Hall on Facebook.
Another user of that platform, Mitzie Reid, wrote: “These teachers are so rude, and all they see is money, money!
“The 6th form programme will help the children, and look at their response, all because of money,” she added.
Marvin Heslop, however, defended the teachers.
“Sixth Form programme like this was not properly thought about in the first place, and many teachers know ah pressure come September because some schools have no space, so Fayval should know better (than) to ask frustrated teachers for happy response,” he stated.
Meanwhile, the woes for Williams in the Education Ministry seem to be far from over, as there has been growing discontent after she announced on Wednesday that the ministry plans to move away from teachers being paid by bursars, and have the educators all receiving their salaries directly from the ministry.
Although she did not give a timeline for the change, Williams said the move would help to alleviate the issue of late or missed salary payments, which some teachers sometimes experience.
But National Workers Union (NWU) General Secretary, Granville Valentine, in a media interview, said the announcement by the minister is a devastating blow to the 400 bursars island-wide.
He claimed that the bursars were unaware of the planned change, and so too were the principals of some schools.
Valentine argued that it is “gross disrespect and very unfortunate” for workers to be treated in such a manner, and urged the prime minister to intervene to avoid any unrest.
Williams, while admitting that the ministry could have (better) communicated the decision to move from bursar to ministry payments, told a radio talk show that five schools are already under a pilot programme ahead of the full rollout of the plans soon.
She advised, too, that Cabinet had given its approval for the implementation of the new payment system for teachers at some schools.
Further, Williams is insisting that the bursars were notified about the decision to move away from teachers being paid by them, and have the Education Ministry make direct payments.
Some teachers have also not responded favourably to Williams’ call for them to open investment portfolios to earn additional income.
Some of the island’s educators have contended that their “meagre” salaries do not afford them the opportunity to make investments.