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Groups seek urgent meeting with PM to discuss Petrojam; want Wheatley out of talks

Thursday, July 19, 2018

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BUSINESS and church leaders, as well as National Integrity Action (NIA), have requested an urgent meeting with Prime Minister Andrew Holness to discuss their recommendations regarding the handling of the Petrojam oil refinery issue.

In a release yesterday, which contained an unsigned copy of an “open letter from” Howard Mitchell, president of the Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica; Larry Watson, president of the Jamaica Chamber of Commerce (JCC); Dr Trevor Munroe, executive director of the NIA; Rev Adinhair Jones, chairman of the Jamaica Umbrella Group of Churches (JUGC); and Metry Seaga, president of the Jamaica Manufacturers and Exporters Association, they asked the prime minister that former energy minister Dr Andrew Wheatley be “immediately” sidelined in relation to deliberations on Petrojam, as long as he remains a member of the Cabinet.

Wheatley, who was stripped of the energy portfolio, has retained the science and technology portfolios.

According to the letter, the leaders had met on July 16, at the request of the JUGC and the NIA, to examine, in depth, the long-standing erosion of public trust in institutions of governance, accentuated by allegations relating to Petrojam, and agreed on the fundamental importance of urgent measures to strengthen integrity as well as good governance.

“In our considered opinion, Prime Minister, declining public confidence in Jamaican authorities is now approaching crisis proportions reflected in many aspects of our society — in unprecedented low voter turnout; growing disregard for law and order; declining involvement in community organisations; and increasing support for undemocratic solutions to deal with high levels of crime and corruption.

“Our respective organisations are of one mind that urgent action is demanded to deal with the situation at Petrojam, and more generally, to curb practices of nepotism, cronyism, favouritism and other evils that have long scarred governance of public bodies and contributed to waste of taxpayers' money.

“For our part, we propose to contribute to the enhancement of public morality, ethics and accountability in governance, as well as more broadly, through engagements involving civic dialogues in town hall-type settings, for the purpose of sensitising citizens on how erosion of public trust impacts the nation, as well as calling them to their responsibilities.”

The letter added: “During the course of our consultation, Prime Minister, we together examined reports and recommendations in the past from oversight bodies, particularly, in relation to Petrojam on which no corrective measures were taken. We, therefore, wish to emphasise that now is the time for action. We are together requesting an urgent meeting with you to discuss and seek agreement on the above recommendations, which we are making.”

The recommendations were:

(1) So long as the former minister of energy remains a member of the Cabinet, he be immediately excluded or recuse himself from all deliberations of that body (or Cabinet subcommittees) relating to Petrojam, including discussions of reports, investigations, reforms and system reviews, etc.

(2) The Integrity Commission, the Major Organised Crime and Anti-Corruption Agency and the Auditor General's Office should be provided with resources to complete their investigations and report into Petrojam within three months, and these reports should be laid in Parliament immediately thereafter.

(3) The terms of reference, composition and deliverables of the strategic committee to review Petrojam's operations, to be chaired by Christopher Zacca, be disclosed publicly, and that the committee submit its report and recommendations within three months, and that it be made public and the board of Petrojam be required to report quarterly on the implementation of agreed recommendations.

(4) That the codes (in particular the Code of Conduct for Ministers), guidelines (in particular the Corporate Governance Framework for Public Bodies and the Competency Framework) and laws (in particular Public Bodies Management and Accountability Act) relating to corporate governance for all public bodies be implemented, monitored and enforced with attendant sanctions when violated or not implemented, and the process be oversighted by a public-private-civil society partnership body which reports to Parliament annually, as well as provide quarterly reports to the public.

(5) We are aware that the administrative responsibility for the development and monitoring of the adherence to policy guidelines is reposed within the Public Enterprise Division of the Ministry of Finance, but respectfully suggest that this unit be strengthened, repurposed and positioned within the Cabinet Office with the authority to impose sanctions on delinquent boards and to report ministerial breaches to the prime minister. We further offer the services of the Governance Committee of the Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica to assist the unit in the process of strengthening the governance protocols and designing sanctions for their breaches.

(6) That the main laws, codes, guidelines and regulations relating to good governance should be consolidated into one compendium within three months, and form an essential component of governance training for all Cabinet ministers within six months thereafter. In the interim, we would ask that you disclose what action you are taking in relation to the recommendation in the Contractor General's Report (July 2017) on de-bushing, and in relation to the failure of the Government to receive the 200 used cars that we purchased for the Jamaica Constabulary Force — two of the issues that have recently sparked considerable public concern.

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