Hope Gov't not disrespecting the intelligence of the J'can people


Tuesday, November 20, 2018

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In a column published on Thursday, November 8, 2018 I highlighted the importance of transparency and inclusion in the handling of the affairs of the State and restated my concerns about the lack of these qualities in the operations of government. There are a number of other specific situations which are test cases in the lack of transparency and inclusion to which I wish to call attention.

Two central and critical elements of transparency are credibility and accuracy. It is one thing to be willing to disclose 'information', as an act of transparency, but if that information is not credible (believable), either because it appears so absurd or the source of the information is not trustworthy, then being transparent is feckless in those circumstances. Similarly, if the information given is in part or whole factually inaccurate then one can hardly characterise the giving of such information as a display of transparency.

Debt to Petrojam

An oil company by the name of Aegean Bunkering (Jamaica) Limited recently filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in the Southern District of New York. The filing documents, dated November 6, 2018, indicate that the company operates in about 25 locations across the world, and has some 30 creditors to whom it owes millions of dollars, ranging from small sums of just above US$100,000 to nearly US$200 million. One of these debtors is Petrojam.

Aegean's filing documents indicate that it owes Petrojam US$3,176,047. However, according to reports in the media, the managing director of Petrojam, Winston Watson, insists that prior to November 4, 2018, all debts owed by Aegean had been paid in full, and the only sum owed is for a shipment of US$370,000 made on November 4, 2018.

Now, Aegean may well be wrong in stating that it owes Petrojam 10 times what it actually does (assuming the managing director's figure is correct), but it certainly raises a lot of questions that there should be this gulf between what the creditor says is due to it and what the debtor says it owes. Could this be another element of an ongoing scandal? Is the public being told the truth?

Given what has gone on a Petrojam in recent times, can we trust what the company says? Is this part of the continuing unravelling of what has been taking place in the Science, Technology, and Energy Ministry?

I wait to see what the facts show. I sincerely hope that the intelligence of the Jamaican people is not being disrespected.

Snubbing qualified people

But while we wait for the truth concerning how much Aegean owes to Petrojam, we have some credible, but disturbing information of what has been taking place at another agency of the Science, Technology, and Energy Ministry.

A report carried in the Jamaica Observer on Thursday November 15, 2018, PAAC turns heat on USF board for employment of CEO', indicates that in response to the advertisement for the post of CEO at the Universal Service Fund (USF), dozens of people applied, some with PhDs and master's degrees in relevant disciplines. But the Public Administration and Appropriations Committee (PAAC) unearthed troubling facts which show that these highly qualified applicants were not shortlisted. The board of the USF took the apparently foolish decision to select one of the least qualified candidates who possessed neither the academic qualifications nor experience of several of the highly qualified persons who were not even shortlisted. But what is worse, the advertisement for the job stated that applicant should possess a minimum of a master's degree.

It is time we ask ourselves if this is the kind of country we want. The USF manages billions of dollars each year, and yet a board, charged with the responsibility of managing those funds on behalf of the people of Jamaica, seemingly took the decision to not hand the management of those funds to the most qualified of all the applicants, rejecting seasoned professionals.

Let me declare that I do not know any of the applicants and was not an applicant.

I submit that any attempt by the board to try to spin this egregious act of malfeasance is nothing short of disrespect for the intelligence of the Jamaican people. The troubling picture that emerges is that no professional who is not politically connected can really expect to be seriously considered when they apply for jobs that are advertised. Recall that senior person who was installed in a job at National Energy Solutions told the PAAC that she heard of the job “through the grapevine”. And to JLP surrogates and friends, let us not play the “what about” card. Yes the People's National Party while in government did similar things, but pointing to the same wrong another person has done is not a defence.

Pact with the Israelis?

In January 2017 Prime Minister Andrew Holness made an historic visit to Israel. This was the first visit ever of a Jamaican prime minister to a country that has opposed the granting of nation status to the people of Palestine, and which unlawfully annexed the West Bank and Gaza strip forcing the Palestinians to live in crammed conditions creating one of the world's longest-running humanitarian crises.

There is a reason previous prime ministers had not visited Israel, and this is largely about Jamaica's leaning towards a two-state solution, whereby Palestinians are allowed to enjoy their own land, in the absence of which other nations cannot with a clear conscience claim to be committed to peace in the Middle East.

But Prime Minister Holness broke with tradition — which he has the right and power to do. But the bigger issues are:

(a) Has the prime minister offered the country a full explanation of the rationale for breaking with his predecessors?

(b) What is the nature and scope of the relationship into which Jamaica has entered with Israel?

(c) Why is it that nearly two years since the visit the prime minister has not made a statement in Parliament on the matter?

Do the people have a right to know?

In relation to the first question, it must be acknowledged that the prime minister had advised Parliament that it is relying of Israel's cybersecurity expertise to build local capacity and while certain details cannot be made public the degree of secrecy is a concern.

There are a couple of other things which concern me deeply, and which should concern every Jamaican, about any Jamaican pact with Israel. Apart from the fact of secrecy, it is to be noted that the member from St Andrew South Eastern, Julian Robinson, has tabled questions in the House of Representatives asking the prime minister whether the Government of Jamaica has entered into a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with an entity known as Cyber Academy. I hope the Government will answer 'yea' or 'nay' and state, as Robinson has asked, what is the scope, if yes, of any MOU.

The second thing about any pact with the Israelis which troubles me is the report that none of Jamaica's three major security partners (Britain, Canada, and USA) seem enamoured by this secret affair with Israel. I am not saying that Jamaica, as a sovereign nation, may not go a route alone without regard for the concerns of its major partners; but it is a sign of something suspect when one hides certain things from one's friends in contexts in which those things are normally shared.

I truly hope that the intelligence of the Jamaican people is not being disrespected.

Dr Canute Thompson is head of the Caribbean Centre for Educational Planning, lecturer in the School of Education, and co-founder and chief consultant for the Caribbean Leadership Re-Imagination Initiative, at The University of the West Indies, Mona. He is also author of four books and several articles on leadership. Send comments to the Observer or canutethompson1@gmail.com.

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