The boards of the Airports Authority of Jamaica (AAJ) and its subsidiary, Norman Manley International Airport Limited (NMIA), have been dissolved amidst the ongoing First Rock investment scandal.
The announcement was made by Transport Minister Robert Montague, who was breaking his silence on the matter during a ministerial statement in the House of Representatives on Tuesday.
Pressure had been mounting on the minister to speak, in particular over the last week, after he refused to answer questions from the parliamentary Opposition last week Tuesday. He was shielded by House Speaker Marisa Dalrymple-Philibert, who ruled that he would not answer the questions as an investigation into the matter was purportedly underway by the Integrity Commission.
However, the speaker reversed herself at Tuesday’s sitting after Montague made his statement and after he answered questions from Opposition members.
“The majority of the board members of the AAJ and the NMIA, I was informed shortly before the sitting of this Parliament, have offered their resignation. And, I have every intention of accepting those resignations,” Montague disclosed.
He also disclosed that two board members who are overseas have not yet indicated their intentions.
“But regardless of that, the board[s] will be dissolved,” he told the Parliament.
Montague said he had declined to address the matter before now because internal investigations were underway, and he wanted to be assured of the facts when he spoke because the issues were technical in nature.
The demise of the two boards has been triggered by the investment by the AAJ of US$3 million (J$450 million) in start-up entity First Rock Capital Holdings without it being sanctioned by the Ministry of Finance as is required by law.
While stating that he has moved to dissolve the boards, Montague said, “The point must be made that the current [AAJ] board was different from the one that made the investment”.
He said some directors who were not members of either board, nonetheless, decided to offer their resignations also.
“I am heartened by their decision to protect the integrity of the institution and their commitment to good governance has not gone unnoticed,” the minister said.
“The resignations will give the ministry and any other investigative body room to conduct their investigations and make recommendations,” he added.
He also told the House that while the AAJ remains profitable and still contributes to the national budget, it has so far recorded a loss on the First Rock investment with the price of the shares moving from $12 to $7.
Reports over several months suggest that the AAJ had the opportunity to invest in recognised blue-chip companies but disregarded advice and instead pumped millions of public funds into the First Rock start-up. Its first investment was made in February 2019, followed by a second investment in January 2020. First Rock started operations in March 2019.