Tough task ahead for Minister Fayval Williams

Friday, February 15, 2019

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The appointment of Ms Fayval Williams as the minister of energy, science, and technology is, we believe, a sound one as she brings to the job the level-headedness that is required to steer one of that ministry's main assets — Petrojam — back on course.

Minister Williams also comes to the portfolio with solid experience in business, having worked with American financial services corporation Morgan Stanley, as well as in real estate investment management.

The fact that she is a chartered financial analyst with a master's degree with concentration in finance from Wharton Business School at the University of Pennsylvania and a BA in economics from Harvard University will most likely assist her management of the portfolio, especially in matters relevant to Petrojam.

Since last year, the State-owned oil refinery has been mired in controversy after instances of mismanagement and corrupt practices were exposed in Parliament.

The fact that the current revelations are the end products of a deeply ingrained culture of behaviour at Petrojam, spanning many years and influenced by politicians, will make Minister Williams' task very difficult. For she will need to stare down people who have become reliant on corrupting processes at the oil refinery in order to enrich themselves.

We don't suspect that those people — especially the individuals involved in what is essentially theft as it relates to oil losses of 600,000 barrels valuing approximately $5.2 billion over the last five years — are the type who will simply pull up stumps and walk away.

To counter them, Minister Williams will need the support of law enforcement agencies, especially the Major Organised Crime and Anti-Corruption Agency which has been diligently investigating what has been taking place at Petrojam, and indeed the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions. For as we have recommended before, the people who engage in thievery and corruption must be made to become guests of the State. Otherwise, the rot will continue to fester and spread.

Prime Minister Andrew Holness, in his news release announcing the appointment of Minister Williams, outlined a number of steps that he took after assuming the energy portfolio last July.

But, as he correctly stated, there is still much more work to be done to restore public trust and confidence in Petrojam and the portfolio generally.

We expect that the Petrojam board will act on his instruction to take civil action to recover funds from anyone who benefited from or caused taxpayers' money to be used illegally or inappropriately.

In addition, we expect that the Administration will implement recommendations in the auditor general's report on Petrojam that, with some amount of adjustment, can improve efficiency, accountability, and transparency in the Administration of public resources.

The prime minister, Minister Williams, and indeed the Government have an opportunity to set things right and lay the foundation for a culture of responsibility.

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