Ultimatum

PNP threatens withdrawal of cooperation on vital national matters if Wheatley not fired

BY ALPHEA SAUNDERS
Senior staff reporter
saundersa@jamaicaobserver.com

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

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The Opposition People's National Party (PNP) is threatening to withdraw its cooperation on a range of matters of national importance if Prime Minister Andrew Holness does not remove Dr Andrew Wheatley from all ministerial duties.

Dr Peter Phillips, the PNP president and Opposition leader, issued the warning yesterday at a press conference at PNP headquarters in St Andrew, stating that he expected the prime minister to let good sense prevail, and conform to the requirements of the constitution and the expectations of political tradition.

Phillips did not elaborate on just how far the Opposition would go with its threat, but said that: “Smooth Government in our system requires extensive cooperation between Government and Opposition in all kinds of areas — cooperation in relation to the passage of legislation, consultation and collaboration in regards to appointment of boards, (and) far-reaching policy initiatives. All of these things, including how we conduct ourselves in the Parliament, are standard in our democracy. What we are saying is that we expect the prime minister to act, and failure to do so will bring into question the basis for further collaboration in all of these areas.”

Public pressure has been mounting on the Government over the past several weeks to fire Wheatley over the corruption scandal that has engulfed the State oil refinery – Petrojam.

Jamaica House announced last Monday that the energy portfolio had been transferred from Wheatley's ministry to the Office of the Prime Minister. However, Wheatley, who came under fire in the House of Representatives last week as Opposition legislators questioned him about reports of corruption and victimisation at Petrojam, remains in the Cabinet in charge of the science and technology portfolios.

Yesterday, Phillips said that the prime minister's decision to relieve Wheatley of the energy portfolio, while leaving him with Cabinet responsibility for the other areas of the ministry, raises more questions than answers.

He said that there was a “litany of corrupt practices and breaches of public trust at Petrojam”, and argued that this behaviour could spread to the other areas of the ministry.

Phillips said the prime minister's failure to act decisively against corruption points to an inability to discipline those who are involved. He said Holness has failed to apply sanctions in response to issues of national concern over the past two years, such as in the $600-million islandwide de-bushing programme, and that this lack of sanction had embolden “those who want to engage in improper conduct”.

He insisted that while investigative bodies such as the Major Organised Crime and Anti-Corruption Agency (MOCA) and the auditor general are carrying out their own probes into the allegations of corruption at Petrojam, the prime minister has a duty to enforce his own sanctions under the constitution.

The opposition leader also pointed to questions hanging over other agencies, such as National Energy Solutions Limited (NESOL), and the Universal Service Fund (USF). “We know that an officer employed to NESOL — who was recently promoted rapidly — was found by MOCA and FID (Financial Investigations Division) to be in possession of tens of millions of dollars and that an investigation is underway. On the face of it, the source of these funds seems to have come from NESOL itself. If that turns out to be the case, it would obviously imply impropriety or worse in the conduct of their operations of NESOL,” he stated.

Last month, the police laid criminal charges against an operations engineer at the agency in connection with the seizure of over $80 million.

Meanwhile, Phillips said there are also concerns at the USF about politically connected and unqualified individuals being employed to high positions without the proper employment procedures. “All of these suggest that the carnival of misconduct uncovered in Petrojam was not limited to that agency alone, but apply to other areas of the ministry,” he stated.

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