Permanent secretary says policy guidelines are sometimes breached

The trial of two former officials of Petrojam continued in the Kingston and St Andrew Parish Court Thursday, with permanent secretary in the Ministry of Science, Energy and Technology (MSET) telling the court that she has no method of ensuring rules are followed by employees.

Carol Palmer told the court on Thursday, during the eighth day of the trial of former Petrojam Chairman Perceval Singh and former General Manager Floyd Grindley that a permanent secretary can only “instruct” and cannot force employees to abide by the rules that are supposed to govern the ministry.

MSET is the parent ministry of the State-owned Petrojam.

Both Singh and Grindley are being tried on fraud-related charges stemming from allegations that more than US$73,000 in questionable claims for travels were made between 2016 and 2018.

Palmer, who took the witness stand for the second day when she appeared in court on Thursday, faced a barrage of questions from Queen’s Counsel KD Knight – who is representing Grindley – regarding the ease with which some policies were ignored and broken by public sector workers. The permanent secretary responded, “Yes, Sir,” to Knight’s question as to whether she and others were obliged to follow definitions outlined in the policies and guidelines of the ministry.

“Yes, it is possible,” she said in response to Knight’s question about whether policy breaches could occur because of employees’ lack of knowledge of the guidelines, careless, or criminal intent.

Palmer, when prompted, clarified that policies for travelling are the same in all ministries of Government as outlined by the Ministry of Finance and Public Service, except for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which she said has other guidelines.

Just before Knight ended his line of questioning, he probed whether junior staff members have a duty to report, in writing to management, if they are being encouraged by senior staff to act contrary to the rules.

“Isn’t that how the system operates?” Knight asked, prodding Palmer to say, “Yes.”

Knight thereafter thanked Palmer for cooperating with the proceeding. She was then released as a witness by Parish Court Judge Maxine Ellis, paving the way for the sixth witness in the trial, a director of information systems at MSET.

To protect this witness, the prosecution requested that he not be named in public. The witness positioned himself in the witness box and began his testimony. He said that his functions include managing a team of information technology (IT) professionals and the MSET’s IT resources.

The witness’s participation in the trial was on the basis that he had retrieved e-mail from the MSET database following a request from Permanent Secretary Palmer. He told the court that he searched for the documents, found them, and handed them over to the permanent secretary without affixing his signature, which raised eyebrows of defence attorneys. He stated that he handed the permanent secretary 33 printed threads of e-mail, which Palmer turned over to the police.

The witness admitted that, in December 2021, he complied with Palmer’s request to log into MSET’s e-mail server as an administrator in order to locate the user account of Hilary Alexander, a former permanent secretary at MSET.

“I logged out as an administrator and then logged in as the user Hilary Alexander. From there, I would have filtered the e-mail. I would have been provided with search parameters to define a particular date and e-mail results. The search parameter was by date. But I don’t recall specific dates.”

The IT director pointed out that he was called in to give the police two separate statements less that five days apart.

“The subject matter I was searching for was a technical meeting between Jamaican experts and Mexican authorities in the energy sector. I located the e-mails sent by Miss Hilary Alexander and cross-referenced the identified e-mails to the claim that was sent to me from Mrs Palmer.”

This witness will continue his testimony today.

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