Columns

Fayval to the rescue

Raulston
Nembhard

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

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There seems to be general agreement that Fayval Williams is the right pick as the minister of energy, science and technology. At least there are those who are quite sanguine about her academic and technical competence to do the job. They are willing to give her a chance with the caveat that they will be scrutinising her handling of the suppurating sore that the Petrojam refinery under her portfolio has become. Specifically, they will be concerned about how quickly and competently she can bring order and transparency to that pivotal area of her assignment given the heavy stack up of mud there.

It is not just the economic cost of the energy portfolio with which she will have to contend. The economic costs of Petrojam to the Jamaican economy have been enormous. Some 600,000 barrels of oil, over a five-year period, are yet to be accounted for. Plus, a foul odour is presently being investigated at the refinery to ascertain whether there is contamination of the gas supply to the public. Bitter memories of the bad gas saga linger with many motorists.

With its monopolistic power, the refinery has been allowed, largely, to operate as a law unto itself. Lines of accountability to the proper ministerial authority in successive administrations have been minimal, at best. This has resulted in human resource and other dubious management practices that have drained taxpayers' resources.

Even Prime Minister Andrew Holness, who held the portfolio after former Minister Andrew Wheatley's untimely departure, did not seem to have been aware of some of the egregious errors being made by the board in the appointment of personnel, their emoluments, and other contractual agreements pursuant to their appointments. The weight of prime ministerial office played a great role in this. As noted in a previous piece, the prime minister should not have allowed himself, in the first place, to be so involved given the amount of mud that had accumulated at the refinery. His limited mortal frame would not have allowed him to do the work necessary to clear, clean and bring order to the place.

But that is behind us now. Minister Fayval Williams has come to the rescue. The question is to what extent will she be able to clean this mud and bring economic viability to this aspect of her portfolio. There is no doubt that she is a technically competent person with a solid background in financial management. She has done a stellar job in her assignment at the Ministry of Finance. She is very dogged with figures, and this, no doubt, will serve her well in seeing through the deep fog of the corrupt practices that have been the bane of not only Petrojam, but other questionable practices in agencies within her ministry.

Her work will not only be of economic significance, but also political — at least for the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP). There is no doubt that the Holness Administration has suffered serious political deficit because of the huge scandal that continues to plague Petrojam. I have referred to it as the albatross around the neck of the party. A lot rides on the willingness of the new minister to clean house and restore some modicum of respectability to the ministry. The truth is that Petrojam is a cancer in need of serious political and governance chemotherapy. The extent to which she will be able to apply the resolute treatment to this ailing patient will determine the Administration's willingness to turn the tide there.

We know of the new minister's academic, managerial and technical competence, but know little about her tenacity or capacity to stare down corrupt practices that will definitely come to her attention. She is a relative newcomer to the tribal vagaries of Jamaican politics. She is a fast learner, but we do not know if she has the stomach for or the fortitude to stand up against the entrenched tribal political arrangements that have wrapped their tentacles around not only her ministry, but throughout the entire public service. It is the corrupting tentacles of tribal politics that is crippling growth in our economy.

It is not enough for ministers simply to wail publicly, as Justice Minister Chuck did last week, about corruption in the public sphere without doing the practical things to cauterise the problem. Merely passing laws and setting up commissions will not help. Laws must be enforced so that we can see results. This is what Jamaicans are concerned about — results.

Time is not on Minister Williams's side to effect real and meaningful change at her beleaguered ministry. One wonders, as the general election get closer, if she will be able to put country first above party loyalty. Of one thing we are sure, she has a great deal of work to do starting now.

This column wishes her well in her new responsibilities.

Dr Raulston Nembhard is a priest and social commentator. Send comments to the Observer or stead6655@aol.com.


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