Editorial

Unless we imprison those robbing the public purse…

Friday, December 07, 2018

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Again, we feel we are on a treadmill.

The Petrojam report, released this week, is not the first submitted by the Auditor General's Department (AGD) exposing disgraceful, callous, reckless, and incompetent management at a State entity.

There have been many in the past, and while, to be fair, some of the AGD's recommendations have been accepted and acted on, the basic problem we are having in this country is an absence of sanctions on those who play fast and loose with taxpayers' money.

People in the public service, particularly those who feed at the political trough, believe that public funds are theirs to spend on whatever they choose. They also believe that they have no obligation to observe procurement rules. Their behaviour is no doubt fuelled by their knowledge that they will be protected by their political bosses who, over the years, have shown equal disregard for decency, due process and honesty.

Obviously, what has attracted such intense public attention to this Petrojam report is the fact that elements of the madness taking place there have been dripping from Parliament's Public Administration and Appropriations Committee over recent months.

The auditor general's report, though, has given the country details of the shape in which the State oil refinery now finds itself, and the picture is frightening:

• deficiency in the oversight and monitoring of Petrojam's operations by the board of directors;

• systemic breakdown in resource management practices resulting in material financial losses;

• failure to undertake adequate due diligence prior to the engagement of an architectural firm to develop a design, at a cost of $22.6 million, for the redevelopment of the resource centre;

• deficiencies in human resource recruitment and management practices, which included explicit acts of nepotism; and the pièce de résistance

• total estimated oil losses of two million barrels valuing approximately $18 billion over the last five years, plus the fact that Petrojam could not account for 600,684 barrels of oil valuing $5.2 billion.

Add to all that the orgy of reckless spending on contracts, consultants, counsellors, equipment that have not been used, and surprise birthday parties for the former energy minister and the former board chairman, all amounting to billions of dollars, and what you have here is an entity being operated on the pillars of irresponsibility, greed, and contempt.

The question facing this country, and indeed the prime minister, is what will happen now?

Prime Minister Andrew Holness has said that the auditor general's report is a “watershed moment for transparency and accountability in Jamaica”. How he handles this matter will tell us if he is the transformational leader he professes to be.

He has an opportunity to put measures and sanctions in place to curtail behaviour that has crossed administrations.

Unless people are convinced that they will go to prison, this culture of thievery and corruption will continue.

 

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