PORT OF SPAIN –– Housing Development Corporation (HDC) chairman Newman George is scheduled to receive a pre-action protocol letter from fired managing director Jearlean John today. The letter, drafted by John’s attorney Avery Sinanan, SC, will raise issues surrounding her dismissal by the HDC board on Tuesday.
She confirmed this yesterday, saying she was prepared for a legal battle after being sacked for having “an offensive tone” and being “insubordinate and disrespectful” while speaking with the board at a meeting on Monday.
John, who has described her termination as “political victimization and high-handedness in the extreme,” was fired three months after she and seven senior HDC managers were sent on administrative leave pending an internal audit.
Asked if the board wanted to question her about three issues — namely the payment of $9 million to a former journalist, the rental of cars for the HDC and who were allowed to drive the vehicles — during the meeting, John said those matters never came up.
“I don’t know what the details are. Which journalist was paid $9 million? I cannot respond to those things because they have not asked me. These questions were not posed to me. I cannot assume what was in the board’s mind,” she said, dismissing these issues as “speculation” and “gossip” since they never arose.
In any event, John said at no time was she in charge of renting vehicles for the HDC, while the board had the sole authority to approve the names of individuals authorised to drive those vehicles.
“Not me, I don’t give out cars. I have never drove a rented or leased HDC car. I was chauffeur-driven in a Hyundai to go on HDC sites from work. From day one, I drove myself to and from HDC in my car,” she said
During the meeting, John said the board placed an invoice for an HDC car in front her without asking a question. She admitted she “protested” this. Asked if she lost her cool, John maintained that she was “civil and respectful”. She said, however, that she felt it was improper to be shown an invoice she knew nothing about, which the HDC could have queried in writing.
“At the HDC there are thousands of transactions. You cannot ask me about one transaction. Not withstanding that, I still proceeded to answer. I just assumed that there was a query based on them putting this thing in front of me,” she said.
During her tenure, John said she managed the State agency with transparency and accountability.
“A transaction does not start with me . . . it ends with me. I am the person who signs off. Everything goes through a process. We were orderly and structured,” she said.
Six weeks ago, John said she wrote the board asking for a framework of the audit and if she could be of assistance to them.
“They never responded. So I get the impression that this is a vaps . . . a bacchanal and allegations. It is not a structured audit using a term of reference. It is not an audit. It is a malicious witchhunt,” she said.
“They are taking it from the point of view that they have to find something on Jearlean John. So there is a desperation now.”
John said the unprofessional manner in which she was fired would tarnish her name.
“At the end of the day I need my name to live in my country. I really think a great disservice and injustice have been perpetuated against me. People would not have confidence in me,” she said.
If the HDC no longer wanted her services, John said they could have simply paid her off.
“I think that is what good industrial relations or civility dictate. This was not done. These are folks that have gone out of their way to try to destroy me. I find that to be very troubling,” she added.
“It did not have to be like this. I am ready to move on with my life.”
Also contacted yesterday, Minister of Housing Randall Mitchell said he was not aware of the three issues raised in connection with John’s firing.
“The board is well managed by a very experienced bunch of directors and I expect they would take the appropriate action,” he said.
Asked if he queried from the board if John’s behaviour in the meeting was appropriate or not, Mitchell said he was yet to meet the board.
“I am sure the board would have taken some record or minutes of what was said and how it was said at that meeting. We will just wait until we see those minutes or records,” he said.
Mitchell also could not say when the audit would be completed.
Yesterday, George did not respond to a text message, while several calls to his cellphone went unanswered.