'Sack Wheatley!'

PNP wants PM to dismiss minister responsible for handling of Petrojam affair

Senior staff reporter

Monday, June 25, 2018

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LEADER of the Opposition People's National Party (PNP) Dr Peter Phillips yesterday called for the sacking of Energy Minister Dr Andrew Wheatley under whose watch a major scandal has engulfed the State's oil refinery, Petrojam.

Speaking at yesterday's PNP's National Executive Council meeting at The Cedar Grove Academy in Portmore, St Catherine, Dr Phillips said, “It is clear that the minister of energy has breached the public trust and his position in that office can't be sustained. The minister must go.”

But he insisted that giving Wheatley his walking papers could not be the end of the matter as Prime Minister Andrew Holness needs to speak to the country about Petrojam.

“A country with a reputation for corrupt behaviour does not attract investment, and this is not helping the country. I wonder if the prime minister is unaware that the whole Government is getting a reputation for corruption, and that it is not possible for him to remain silent in this matter. The country needs to know and to hear from him,” the Opposition leader insisted.

He pointed out that the prime minister heads the Cabinet which appointed the “absentee” Petrojam board, formerly chaired by Perceval Badahoo-Singh, who along with one other former member resided overseas. Badahoo-Singh and the two other Jamaican board members resigned last week following a meeting with Dr Wheatley over the deepening allegations of corruption and victimisation at the refinery.

Cabinet has tasked the permanent secretary in the energy ministry, Hillary Alexander, to prepare a report on the operations at the refinery, specific to the allegations. That report should be presented to Cabinet today.

“Someone has to answer for the issue of how did such a board become appointed. The PM chaired the Cabinet meeting that approved the contractor of the wall where there was massive payments in excess of the estimates, in a situation where that same contractor was already implicated in the previous ($600-million) bushing scandal, as reported on by the contractor general,” he told members of the PNP executive.

Telroy Morgan, production manager for Petrojam, explained at a meeting of Parliament's Public Administration and Appropriations Committee two weeks ago that the National Works Agency had originally estimated the work on the construction of a wall at the refinery to be just under $30 million. That contract was originally associated with China Harbour Engineering Company (CHEC).

He said there were discussions surrounding the variance and changes were made to the scope of work, which, along with other related costs, rounded up Petrojam's estimate to some $84 million. The final cost of the contract was $96.8 million.

Phillips described the Petrojam controversy, which took another turn last week with the resignation of two managers, as “the mother of all scandals, so far”, and pointed to a number of controversies which have hung over the Holness Administration since it took office in February 2016.

“It has all the ingredients of all the other scandals put together. It has nepotism — the appointment of people simply because of connections to the ministerial ranks of the Jamaica Labour Party, and the appointment of people at pay levels in excess of what was present in all the other government corporations, at pay levels in excess of what was offered in the private sector, in excess of what was paid to the previous managers in those positions. That one element is a scandal in itself,” he said.

“It [also] has the elements of victimisation, which has become typical of the JLP Government, because they fired the previous human resource manager on Christmas Eve — that matter is now before the IDT (Industrial Disputes Tribunal); it has the elements of the misuse and diversion of taxpayer resources,” he added.

Venezuela, through its State oil refinery, has a 49 per cent interest in Petrojam, and three members who sit on its board. Sources told the Jamaica Observer that last December the Venezuelans conducted an audit at Petrojam due to concerns about spending at the facility. The findings, however, were not disclosed.

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