House committee to summon PCJ director over $9-m donation

Senior staff reporter

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

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Parliament's Public Accounts Committee (PAC) has indicated its intention to summon Petroleum Corporation of Jamaica (PCJ) director Lionel Myrie to answer questions about a $9-million donation by the State oil refinery to Sydenham Citizens' Association in St Catherine.

The involvement of a PCJ board member in the redirecting of sponsorship funds from one St Catherine citizens' association to another was raised in the auditor general's December 2018 report, stemming from an investigation into operations at Petrojam and its parent company PCJ.

Myrie was named at last week's meeting of the PAC as the board director implicated in the report. Questions about Myrie's involvement in the reallocation of the funds from McCook's Pen Citizens' Association to Sydenham Citizens' Association in July 2017 again came to the fore at yesterday's meeting of the PAC.

Permanent secretary in the Ministry of Science, Energy, and Technology Carol Palmer told the committee that her information did not indicate that Myrie intervened in his capacity as a director of the PCJ.

“He spoke with me yesterday to clear the situation, and he said the documentation came to him in his capacity as a personal assistant to the then minister and he then forwarded it to Petrojam. He made it very clear he was not acting in his capacity as a PCJ director,” Palmer stated.

Documents prepared by Petrojam for submission to the committee, which were read by PAC Chairman Mark Golding, indicate that Myrie had e-mailed then general manager of Petrojam Floyd Grindley, forwarding a letter from McCook's Pen Citizens' Association seeking to cancel their sponsorship, along with the request from Sydenham Citizens' Association.

Government members of the PAC protested, stating that this did not constitute an intervention or instructions by the director.

“Well, give me another explanation of why the minister's assistant would send an e-mail with a letter from McCooks Pen saying we no longer want the donation and it must be redirected to another citizens' association within the same minister's constituency,” Opposition PAC member Peter Bunting said.

“This is where we get a collapse of the supposed separation between policy and operations. The minister is the policy leader of the ministry, but when his personal assistant is inserted into the operational agencies as a director and is passing things on, which are interpreted as an instruction, then this is where good governance breaks down. That's why we have a permanent secretary in the ministries, because they're the accounting officers in charge of the administrative side of the ministry,” Bunting argued.

According to the auditor general's report, after requesting a donation of $9,000,381.50 for additional construction works at its community centre in March 2017, 'Citizens' Association #1' (McCook's Pen) a month later advised the company that it had engaged a contractor to execute the works and asked that all payments be made to the contractor.

However, Petrojam presented a letter dated July 5, 2017, purportedly from Citizens' Association #1, indicating that it was no longer interested in the sponsorship.

According to the report, “Petrojam provided correspondence dated June 24, 2017 from another citizens' association (Citizens' Association #2) requesting donation for the renovation of its community centre. Of note, we observed that, by way of e-mail dated July 5, 2017, a board member of PCJ submitted to Petrojam's general manager the letter from Citizens' Association #1 cancelling its request and the new request from Citizens' Association #2.”

On July 5, 2017 Grindley, by e-mail, subsequently instructed that board submission documents be prepared to use the already approved sums of just over $9 million for this new request.

“The board submission, prepared and signed on July 6, 2017 by the manager, HRDA, was endorsed by the general manager and a representative of the human resource sub-committee and approved by the chairman of the board, without the input of the other board members,” the auditor general said.

The report further stated that Petrojam did not provide evidence that Citizens' Association #2 (Sydenham) submitted a bill of estimate. However, a cheque with the sum of $9,000,381.50 was made payable directly to the association on July 13, 2017.

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