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PAAC questions refund of US$8,000 to oil refinery chair

Thursday, June 14, 2018

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THE Public Administration and Appropriations Committee (PAAC) of Parliament yesterday asked general manager of Petrojam, Floyd Grindley to explain why there was a deviation from Government policy in the purchase of an air ticket for board chairman Perceval Badahoo-Singh.

Members demanded answers regarding the circumstances under which Badaho-Singh, who lives in the United States, reportedly bought his own ticket for an official meeting in the United Kingdom in February, and was later reimbursed just over US$8,000 by the Government of Jamaica, although he did not attend the meeting.

The committee concluded that Government policy was breached after Grindley explained that the chairman had paid for the ticket himself, but that the trip had been cancelled due to adverse weather conditions, and that he had subsequently been reimbursed for the cost of the ticket.

According to Government policy, whenever a public servant travels on official business, payments for airline tickets are made to the service providers and only the per diem is paid directly to the travelling officer.

Grindley explained that the chairman had last week returned the air ticket reimbursement to the Government, but it was not made clear whether sums paid to the chairman for per diem (daily allowance) had been returned to the State-owned oil refinery.

St Catherine Southern Member of Parliament Fitz Jackson, who grilled Grindley on the issue, argued that if the procurement guidelines were followed the ticket would have been bought by Petrojam and reimbursement sought from the airline or agent in the event of a cancellation.

“This is a case where this purchase circumvented the established process by the Ministry of Finance, and that is the reason why there is a reimbursement from the gentleman to Petrojam,” he stated. But Grindley insisted that the company had acted according to policy.

Budget officer for Petrojam, Carlene Evans told the committee that there is strict adherence to the finance ministry's guidelines for travel, but that this had been a one-off situation. “There are instances where the chairman has travelled to Jamaica and booked into a hotel and is reimbursed for those amounts, so there is inconsistency there,” MP for Manchester North Western Mikael Phillips asserted.

St Andrew East Rural MP Juliet Holness urged Grindley to clarify the circumstances under which there was a deviation in policy. “You should be able to say to us why it is that you deviated in this situation; having not travelled to the conference because of weather conditions our understanding and expectations would be if he willy nilly decided he wouldn't go, then there is no chance that our Government would be reimbursed; if it is that there is a genuine weather condition our expectations is that at some point the airline would be reimbursing the Government of Jamaica as it relates to that particular travel.”

The committee has also asked the Petrojam general manager to submit a report on the arrangement between the company and technical consultants Asha Corporation, which is being retained at $21 million per annum. The committee said Petrojam should state how Asha's services were procured, the expertise of the company, its board of directors, and invoices written in the name of an individual, instead of to the company.

Grindley had informed the committee that the consultant was paid US$59,000, US$47,000 and US$55,000 for three contracts between May 2017 and April of this year, and that the contracts had not gone to tender. “Petrojam had a need for resources to support services that the company needed to support our business,” he insisted.

He said the expertise provided by the consultant were not available in-house, but Winston Watson, group general manager for Petroleum Corporation of Jamaica (Petrojam's parent company), told the committee that: “We have our chief accountant, and we do have a consultant that can provide that kind of service… I would say, yes, we can do it.”

Petrojam is also to submit details of US$445,000 in corporate donations which it disbursed in 2017/18 to various causes/entities, as well as its engagement of public relations and marketing firm, Main Events Limited, at a cost of $13.9 million.

— Alphea Saunders

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