Gov't selling Petrojam?

Speculation rife that Government about to divest scandal-hit State entity


Monday, December 10, 2018

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Highly placed sources last night suggested that the Government is about to put the troubled state-run Petrojam refinery up for sale.

Prime Minister Andrew Holness has scheduled a press conference for this morning at which he is likely to make the announcement, the usually impeccable sources said.

Ahead of any such announcement, senior government minister Dr Horace Chang helped fuel the speculation by making a strident call for the divestment of the scandal-hit entity Saturday night in a prepared speech in Montego Bay, St James.

“The truth is there is no need for a government to own an oil refinery. There is no rationale to it,” said Dr Chang, the national security minister.

“An oil refinery is a commercial activity that is to be owned by business people, run by businessmen whose interest is to have the most efficient plant operating and get the best business deal for the plant. That's just plain common sense,” Dr Chang argued.

The Opposition People's National Party (PNP) added fuel to the fire by also scheduling a press conference for this morning — 90 minutes after the prime minister — to discuss the crisis at Petrojam, which has been losing supplies at a cost of $1 billion a year.

The Petrojam debacle has already claimed the scalp of Energy Minister Dr Andrew Wheatley who, while claiming no wrongdoing, has been quoted in a news report as saying he was hurt by the disgrace.

Wheatley has also been reported as saying he would pay back the US$1,000 said by the auditor general to have been spent on a lavish surprise birthday cake for him.

Pressing the divestment argument, Dr Chang said the Government had come to accept and appreciate that “there are certain things that should be left to government and certain things that should be left to the private sector”.

“And even where you have some where there is government involvement, like in some of the utilities and infrastructure, you are better off having them on the marketplace, where shareholders can participate and hold the management to market discipline.

“If you had that kind of discipline you wouldn't have such activities around a number of issues, including the recent Petrojam case, which the Government will be taking some decisions on.

“It is dealt with by the prime minister; it is now his portfolio and he will indicate to the nation what actions he will take,” said Chang, who was speaking at the Montego Bay Chamber of Commerce and Industry's (MBCCI) Annual Awards Banquet at the Montego Bay Convention Centre.

In strengthening his pitch for divestment, Dr Chang said it did not only represent rationalisation for efficiency, but it also provides “additional investment opportunities for the business community”.

He disclosed that the Wigton Windfarm in Manchester would be up for divestment following on the heels of the Kingston Freeport terminal. He added that a preferred bidder had been identified for operations at the Norman Manley International Airport.

Montego Bay businessman, Winston Dear was inducted into the MBCCI Wall of Fame for his contribution to the development of the tourist resort city, joining hotel mogul Gordon “Butch” Stewart; Lloyd B Smith, publisher and journalist; Anthony “Tony” Hart; Ralph Smith; Godfrey Dyer; the late B D Dadlani; andthe late Joe Whitter.

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