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Petrojam scandal spurs response from HR association

Monday, July 30, 2018

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KINGSTON, Jamaica — The Human Resource Management Association of Jamaica (HRMAJ) has penned an open letter offering its services and expertise to Prime Minister Andrew Holness following the scandal that has engulfed the State-owned oil refinery, Petrojam in recent weeks.

The refinery's Human Resources Manager Yolande Ramharrack has been embroiled in allegations of nepotism at the State-owned oil refinery since the controversy started.

Ramharrack, whose academic qualifications for the post had been questioned at several sittings of the Public Administration and Appropriations Committee (PAAC), has defended her reputation, suggesting that persons commenting on the circumstances surrounding employment at Petrojam have not been fully apprised of the facts.

HRMAJ, in the letter dated July 25, 2018, said a significant part of the public discourse surrounds the human resource (HR) profession and it is looking forward to the findings of the Strategic Review Committee, to be chaired by Christopher Zacca, before offering a conclusive opinion.

“HRMAJ has a keen interest in protecting and promoting excellence in HR practices and corporate governance. In this regard we are offering our services and expertise to the Prime Minister and the Strategic Review Committee to ensure that Petrojam benefits from a broad sweep of HR professional experience in the review,” the letter read.

However, the association encouraged the government to ensure that HR practice management and corporate governance standards are directed by a consistent and enforced set of guidelines across the public sector.

“This is important in engendering both employee and public confidence at high levels in the development of human capital and the highest standards of probity in the handing of public funds.”

The Human Resource Management Association of Jamaica consists of human resource professionals and practitioners, management consultants, teachers, project leaders and business advisors from public, private and non government sectors.

It was rebranded in 2005 after being in operation since 1980. It aims to make an impact on the level of human resource development training in Jamaica.

See letter in full:

July 25, 2018

The Most Honourable Andrew Holness, ON, MP

Prime Minister

Office of the Prime Minister

1 Devon Road

Kingston 10

Dear Prime Minister,

The Human Resource Management Association of Jamaica (HRMAJ) pens this open letter, as like many citizens and organisations, we been watching, with great concern, the unfolding of events at Petrojam.

We welcome the establishment of a Strategic Review Committee, to be chaired by Christopher Zacca, as an important step in rectifying the many issues that have arisen. It is encouraged that the Committee's mandate, findings and recommendations be shared publicly to ensure ownership and follow through on the deliverables emanating from the Committee's recommendations.

A significant part of the public discourse surrounds the Human Resource (HR) profession and we are looking forward to the findings of the Committee's review before offering a conclusive opinion. We are however disappointed by some of what we have heard in relation to governance breakdowns at Petrojam, and based on parliamentary discussions; HRMAJ takes this opportunity to emphasize the following key imperatives in best HR practice:

- Reporting of HR both to the CEO as well as a board HR sub-committee, but only in the context where strictly executive functions are not undermined by either boards or the political directorate.

- Commitment to best practices in HR management (HRM) and HR development (HRD) as a key part of any organisation's success in people management in both the private and public sectors.

- Use of the HRMAJ Code of Ethics for Professional Conduct as part of the oversight governance by boards. This was developed in 2010 and provides guidance to Boards and CEO's on HR practice as HR functions are exercised by both HR teams and line management.

These best HR practices will mitigate the risks of weaknesses in required checks and balances between line management and HR support, which appears to have taken place at Petrojam. Being guided by best HR practices will also prevent the overlap of roles between management and boards, while preserving the role of the board to provide oversight and ensure management accountability.

On the issue of recruitment, we posit that the recruitment of executives, including the HR head at Petrojam, is a role of the CEO, supported as required by the HR Committee of the board. We note however, that although it is not unusual for skilled external resources to support panel interviews in public sector entities, the panel selection raises questions that must be definitively answered and must not leave doubts about whether there was a contrived arrangement to “shoe-in” a candidate. Best- in-class HR practices require that recruitment and selection revolves around Talent acquisition, development and retention as an objective, and that knowledge, skills and experience requirements, be properly documented and adhered to in selection. We expect that recruitment guidelines would be approved by the board, and appropriate systems put in place by the CEO, to ensure transparency, as well as board review of executive leadership performance.

At this time, we do not have sufficient information regarding the rationale behind the compensation decisions at Petrojam with respect to the various officers; we do however anticipate that the in-depth reviews will make it clear. What is evident is that compensation decisions, relative to the HR Head could not have been made by the incumbent. As HR professionals, we will always underscore the need for there to be a strong executive and board consensus on pay scales being designed and administered around both internal and external equity considerations. We strongly support any move to seriously address the current design proliferation of salary scales that exists in Public Sector compensation management, while being clear that the government must ensure that compensation arrangements are sufficient to attract and retain required talent.

Our local environment requires a strong focus on employee and labour relations. While investigations ensue in relation to recruitment and compensation, if there are concerns about the performance of the HR head, we immediately encourage an objective assessment of her achievements against whatever targets were agreed with the CEO for the role. The HR manager's fit, like every other employee must be now determined on the quality and effectiveness of her performance.

HRMAJ has a keen interest in protecting and promoting excellence in HR practices and corporate governance. In this regard we are offering our services and expertise to the Prime Minister and the Strategic Review Committee to ensure that Petrojam benefits from a broad sweep of HR professional experience in the review.

For members of HRMAJ and for the HR profession we promote defined standards of conduct which are documented in our Code of Ethics. These include inter alia:

  1. Committing to Ethical leadership by setting the tone with Transparency & Integrity.
  2. Complying with & upholding corporate policies, local, regional & international Employment Law & Regulations.
  3. Promulgating Transparency through trustworthy, credible & confidential behaviour.
  4. Upholding Justice, Fairness, Merit & Due Process.
  5. Creating a Culture of Open and Honest Communication.
  6. Fostering productive and harmonious relationships throughout the organisation.

We are in tandem with the view of the Economic Growth Council (ECG), “to build Human Capital which is too often an undervalued component in the conversation on growth”. We understand the need for HR leaders to demonstrate what our profession refers to as credible activism in the management of both organizational conscience and commitments within organizations.

HRMAJ encourages the government to ensure that HR practice management and corporate governance standards are directed by a consistent and enforced set of guidelines across the public sector. This is important in engendering both employee and public confidence at high levels in the development of human capital and the highest standards of probity in the handing of public funds.

Please contact the undersigned at 876-919-6054 or Susan Brodber, Head of Secretariat, at 876-925-1010.

Yours sincerely,

THE HUMAN RESOURCE MANAGEMENT

ASSOCIATION OF JAMAICA

Karl Williams

President

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