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Petrojam needs a 'Fresh Start', Holness

Al Miller

Sunday, December 16, 2018

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Jerusalem, Oh, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you. How often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks but you would not. — Matthew, tax collector (26 AD)

A tax collector 2,000 years ago wrote the words above. Matthew, a civil servant and mentee of Jesus who is called the Christ, claimed to have heard Jesus sorrowfully utter those words while taking a long hard look at a leading, city of the day.

I don't believe there is any analogous comparison between Jesus and our current new-era Prime Minister Andrew Holness, , except, I hope, in this aspect of the grieving Lord. I can only hope that Holness looks with sorrow at this continued distraction to his new-era leadership called Petrojam. I can imagine him going home and taking a long, hard look from his Beverly Hills property to the Petrojam building in the distance and saying, “Petrojam, Oh, Petrojam, you who spoil your employees and corrupt those sent to you. How often I have longed to audit you, as a new-era prime minister should, but you would not.”

I read and found it unbelievable, The Gleaner headline of Thursday, December 13, 'Petrojam blocked audit — PCJ auditor says former managers thwarted review'. The accompanying report said: “Auditors at the Petroleum Corporation of Jamaica (PCJ), the parent company for Petrojam, have revealed that they were prevented from carrying out an audit at the State-owned oil refinery by the previous management.”

Why would managers block an audit? Did they have something to hide? I am told that, “The purpose of an audit is to provide an objective independent examination… which increases the value and credibility of... management.” What kind of manager would not want to increase their “value and credibility”? This kind of behaviour seems to be one of the many anomalies at Petrojam that we need to figure out truth from fiction and reality from perception.

Let's discuss a few more:

1. Petrojam corruption is not new

I am alarmed at the level of alarm over the findings of the auditor general's audit of Petrojam. This is not a new problem. This is what has been our reality for decades under successive governments. Not only with Petrojam, but with many other government projects, programmes and ministries. Historically, entities such as housing, works, local government have all been 'gravy trains' for the politicos.

The big questions that should be asked and effectively answered are: Why has this happened? What has made us so prone to corruption? What has sustained this corruption culture for so long?

Apart from the personal character issues, such as greed, selfishness, and lust for power, there is a fundamental systemic flow that is a legacy of colonial mindset in Third World countries. A feature where the State controls the overwhelming proportion of the economy; that old system, though 66 years dead, is still alive through a societal construct that breeds corruption and dependency culture of all classes — poor, business, upper. They all depend on the State.

The situation above breeds and defines the “political economy”. All economic actions are related to political consequences and all political action have an economic implication. To add fuel to fire, sadly, there are Jamaicans in the system who have proven that they are as bad, or worse, than the rapacious colonial masters that preceded them. For rather than engaging, facilitating or regulating policies and practices to facilitate equitable private initiative and empower our nation, since Independence they have simply continued the rapacious actions of their colonial predecessors.

The audit which covered a five-year period, from 2013 to 2018, has revealed that the corruption problems of Petrojam existed long before the stewardship of the current managers. Petrojam has been a long-standing gravy train for the politicos in both parties. Both know 'how it run'!

2. The unspoken but well known side

I want us to look at the unspoken side of what the Petrojam findings really reflect. A side that runs through the underbelly of the nation's corruption that makes it difficult to break. I am opening it up so we will act for real transformation and not a cosmetic alteration.

Here is what I mean: The refinery and PCJ group is among the 10 largest corporate entities in Jamaica. It is the largest political economic entity at the centre of our political structures impinging on garrison areas, constituencies, business, and the finances of the country. These are just straight facts. Petrojam happens to be located in close proximity to certain constituencies across the city from which planned outreach to all can always be arranged. Its importance makes it an economic supply of business relationships and arrangements for contracting and employment of many urban unemployed in our 'State-run economy'. It has been a long-standing belief and rumour in many quarters that Petrojam is one of the gravy trains of the political system used by both sides.

How the system works? The party who forms government seeks to place their operatives not only on Government boards or accepted political offices, but to have them employed in key positions in the 'gravy train' entities. The longer a party is in power the more entrenched the number and rank of their operatives should increase. When they have two, three and more successive terms they, in colloquial language, “have the city lock” — the environment is now ripe to sustain the corrupt status quo.

When the Government changes, the newly elected say, “A fi wi time now.” Attempts to remove and replace operatives are often met with resistance. Cries of cronyism and nepotism are often heard, and not without some justification. These situations have become a normal way of life from the 70s to now. It is time for an approach that will break the back of it and birth a new day.

It is believed that Petrojam is prime example of how the system works. It appears the boat was being rocked and 'activist employees' began leaking information from both of the political sides. It is not without notice that up until now information out of the tight insular nature of the refinery has been hard to come by. We have heard of the lack of transparency behind their pricing mechanism and the resistance for a long time by the management for an audit requested by the parent company, PCJ. We have heard of the many breaches of safety standards and unsafe conditions, the failure of the last 20 years to bring the resources and make the decision necessary to rehabilitate the refinery. It does make one wonder, why?

3. Too important not to fix

The refinery and PCJ are critical to the the growth and development of our Jamaica because of the sheer size it shares in our gross domestic product (GDP) 'pie'. No one can argue that the prime minister and his Government should not do everything and anything lawful in its power to align this vast resource with the best long-term interest of our country. To borrow a phrase from the 44th President of the USA Barack Obama, “We cannot afford to let the perfect be the enemy of the good in a complex and chaotic environment of the 'glocalised' environment of energy and petroleum.”

Prime Minister Holness may feel compelled to use the devices as they are available to him to shut down every form of irregularity and illegality that would rob the taxpayers of this country. Therefore, I can understand his need to take any action deemed necessary in the nation's and people's best interest. Whether by forensic audit or other means, and regardless of contrary voices and those with other agendas, the prime minister has to coordinate all the best decisions, technical solutions, expertise, finances, local and international networks to solve the quagmire that's the PCJ Group and Petrojam refinery complex. The risk to the economic growth model he's pursuing is much too great.

He, as a new-era prime minister, has an obligation to now lay the kind of foundation to build the new Jamaica we all dream of. He must take new and different approaches. He must be willing to do what never has been done before to uproot our problems and not continue to break off branches that simply spring back.

Fix the country, new-era Prime Minister. Fix it justly. Do not just cherry-pick the one or two issues of corruption that accidentally surface. Cut down the rotten tree once and for all!

Beyond forensic to fresh start

In as much as I understand the cry and thought of a forensic audit. It is old school, been done, but is not nationally transformational. I believe it is immoral to punish what you permit when it becomes an embarrassment. We, as a nation, and the political process have permitted and given tacit approval to the corrupt activities at Petrojam and other spheres of the society for years. Do not suddenly try to punish the few without wholesale rejection of past and present by acknowledging the culpability of all who have been a part of the system. “He that is without sin, cast the first stone!”

The only way for national justice is for all to acknowledge that the system is corrupt and turn away and commit to a new path. Mr Prime Minister, just be fair and equal to all. Do not be partisan or look for scapegoats. Make this a comprehensive fixing to go down in history as part of your new-era legacy.

This country has seen very few paragons of virtue in the political arena over the past 30 to 40 years. Even those in major civil society organisations, and big business, who look virtuous today and who are crying for a forensic audit of Petrojam and other cash cows, were themselves involved in corruption a few years ago. So there are really no clean hands on deck. Therefore, clean the swamp, Prime Minister, without fear or favour. I humbly suggest the most far-reaching and nationally transforming way is to apply the 'Fresh Start' principle across the board. Have no fear of naysayers and detractors.

I was pleased to read in the Observer of December 6, 2018 a report which claimed that “Prime Minister Andrew Holness...described the auditor general's damning report on the operations at the State-owned Petrojam oil refinery as a 'watershed moment for transparency and accountability in Jamaica', and said that the Government will act on the recommendations.” If indeed it is to be a watershed moment for Jamaica, then we cannot only focus on one blotch; cleaning up Petrojam. Again, I say, let's use a method to clean the whole swamp. Let the principles of honesty and truth, which set us free, prevail!

Instead of a forensic audit that would be needed throughout the swamp to effectively clean it, it would be more productive to establish a Truth Commission. Since that thought would scare all. Just apply the 'Fresh Start' principle across the board in every area. Ask the nation to forgive then set new parameters for transparency and accountability in every sphere, along with severe methods of punishment for those who violate the new system put in place. Violators will face the full extent of the law.

This approach calls for strength of character in our national leadership all round, and certainly from our new-era prime minister to build the new Jamaica. This approach should be less costly than a wide ranging audit, thus a lighter burden for our taxpayers to carry. It should be more thorough, complete, and effective in scope; more open and just, faster, and better. Use this Fresh Start approach across the board!

Buju forgiven? Why?

Eight years ago Buju Banton was caught in an unbelievable situation. A conscious-singing Rastaman tasting cocaine? Inconceivable!

He returned a few days ago to a rapturous welcome befitting a hero.

Why were Jamaicans so ready to forgive and embrace Buju?

I believe it's because the 'wound' of Buju's 'sin' was open to all; the result and power of social media. An open wound can be cleansed and healed.

Perhaps the best thing our new-era prime minister could do is use the Fresh Start approach, and in doing so he will find that similarly, as our people have forgiven Buju, so too the corruption of the past would be forgiven and new paradigms could be set going forward.

I am all for the cleaning up of the country to heal and move forward on the sound footing of truth, justice and peace. This will clear the way for real progress, toward true prosperity.

I will not miss the opportunity to point out that it has been the prayer of God's people recently, which has led to most of the exposure of corruption, evil practices, and the breaking down of evil systems and structures which have had a stranglehold on our economy, hindering our growth for decades. Despite the sceptics, we attribute current happenings to the power of prayer and invite Christians everywhere to increase the prayer! This is only the tip of the iceberg. Until the nation is transformed, we will pray and act.

Rev Al Miller is pastor of Fellowship Tabernacle. Send comments to the Observer or pastormilleroffice@gmail.com.


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