Jamaica House appeals for patience amid Petrojam allegations

Thursday, July 12, 2018

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JAMAICA House yesterday sought to allay the concerns still surrounding scandal-hit Petrojam, despite the resignation of executives and senior personnel over the past few weeks, including General Manager Floyd Grindley, who had come under pressure from the Opposition and some staff of the State-owned oil refinery over the past month.

Prime Minister Andrew Holness announced in Parliament on Tuesday that Grindley had “agreed” to part company with the entity, and that arrangements would be made for new management and leadership.

Since the firestorm of allegations and accusations started, Grindley's leadership has been called into question, with Members of Parliament at a recent sitting of the Public Administration and Appropriations Committee (PAAC) meeting pressuring him for answers to a raft of questions about activities at the refinery.

At a post-Cabinet press briefing at Jamaica House yesterday, director of communications and public affairs in the Office of the Prime Minister, Robert Morgan appealed for patience while the auditor general completes her report.

He said the report would provide answers to many of the questions in the public sphere, including those relating to details of employment at the refinery.

“There is a process taking place through the auditor general (AG), who will be examining, in detail, all issues related to the public accusations and allegations… we should allow the investigation to take place so that we can get an objective understanding of what took place, not a subjective view of the Government or the Opposition,” he stated. “There is also a process by the Integrity Commission.”

Pressed to outline some of the “untruths” which the prime minister alluded to in his statement Tuesday, Morgan explained that Holness had pointed to “a haystack of accusations and we need to find the needle of truth in it”, and that the discussions with the management and executives of Petrojam point to a breakdown in management systems, not necessarily wrongdoing.

“I think what we have is information coming from the report from PS (permanent secretary) [and] from managers as to some systemic issues that took place. That's what the AG has a mandate to look into — the systemic management of the organisation. In her report she will give us evidence as to what are some of these acts and omissions which may have taken place which require the intervention of the Government from a deeper policy level,” he stated.

Meanwhile, the communications director also cautioned against relying too heavily on the administrative report submitted to Cabinet by Permanent Secretary Hillary Alexander.

“The report was a foundation on which other information was built, and it does have things in it that are not fully answered which will be answered in other investigative reports. So I want to caution you that getting the report doesn't necessarily give you all the answers that you're seeking, what will give you the answers is the auditor general's report, which is the objective and full review of Petrojam. So ministers and Cabinet will have discussions internally about when and how this document can be distributed in a manner that gives you a fair understanding of [what] took place in the discussion,” Morgan told journalists.

The Opposition, on Monday, renewed its call for Dr Andrew Wheatley, who held the energy portfolio up to last week, to be held accountable for what it said was “cronyism” and alleged corruption at Petrojam, and be relieved of all ministerial responsibilities.

In his address to the House of Representatives, Prime Minister Holness said it was clear from discussions with the acting permanent secretary that the central ministry was unaware or was made aware after the fact of most of the instances of maladministration at Petrojam.

He said the administration is now looking to correct that weakness in oversight by, among other things, having a member of the board of the Petroleum Corporation of Jamaica (PCJ), Petrojam's holding company, sit on the Petrojam board.

“There needs to be tighter regulations, and we need to explicitly give oversight of PCJ to the operations of Petrojam,” he noted.

The prime minister also said there are indications that the previous Petrojam board had, in instances, breached policy by certain actions, such as personally making travel arrangements. Cabinet appointed new members to the board, headed by Paul Hoo, following the resignation of the former directors, including chairman Perceval Badhoo-Singh, whose travel arrangements drew sharp criticism from the Opposition and others. The Venezuelan State-oil refinery, which has 49 per cent shares in Petrojam, also has three members on the board.

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