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Fulbright scholar might have to give up Toll Authority job

Lerone Laing, chief executive officer of the Toll Authority, who faced controversy in 2021 when questions were raised around whether he was qualified for the $5-million-a-year job, may soon have to consider permanently stepping away from the post to pursue studies in the United States (US).

Laing has been named a scholarship recipient under the 2023 Fulbright Graduate Student Program.

He will be taking on a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Public Administration at the Florida International University.

In an interview with The Gleaner yesterday, when asked if he would have to give up his post as CEO, he said, “That is up for discussion currently.”

He added, “I’m thinking about the long term. The big picture.

“The board is considering the possibilities, so certainly, we’ll discuss that and we’ll see what the future holds … . I think I’m making good strides and a good impact where I am now, but I think if I’m looking at the next 10 [to] 20 years, this experience of getting this PhD, especially in a First World country such as the United States (US), the network that I would get, the knowledge that I would get, the exposure that I would get would make me a more effective public servant in the future,” Laing said.

He indicated that when he returns to the island after his studies end, he wants to continue giving of himself to the public service, especially in the area of research, evaluation, performance management, and strategy objective setting.

In December 2021, Laing came under fire for not meeting the minimum requirements for the job. He told The Gleaner yesterday that he holds an undergraduate degree in computer science and a masters in economics from the University of the West Indies (UWI), Mona.

Back then, the Ministry of Transport defended Laing’s appointment, stating that he had three years’ experience at the mid-manager level at the time of his application.

Laing also served as an advisor to the Ministry of Transport and Mining between March 2018 and September 2019, which led to him being chastised as one of the reasons he was appointed in a post.

Laing, who said he was excited and grateful, is Jamaica’s only male scholarship recipient in the Fulbright Graduate Student Program this year. There are five women from Jamaica who have been chosen to pursue studies in various fields and universities in the US.

He said that among the reasons for him applying for the Fulbright Graduate Student Program was the recognition that Jamaica has significant potential but also gaps in public administration and public service where his generation should take the baton to help improve and develop the country.

The other Fulbright Graduate Student Program recipients for this year are Denise Brown and Kamala McWhinney, under the Fulbright Faculty Development Program; and Dr Imani Tafari Ama, Nickania Pryce, and Dr Paulette Ramsay, under the Fulbright Scholar-In-Residence Program.