Decisive action will be taken

Gov't promises to deal with issue of corruption at Petrojam, if uncovered

Observer staff reporter

Friday, June 22, 2018

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IN the wake of damning allegations surrounding operations at Petrojam, Minister of National Security Dr Horace Chang has promised that decisive action will be taken by the Government if corruption is uncovered.

Petrojam, Jamaica's only oil refinery, has over the past few weeks been thrust into the spotlight amidst allegations regarding the hiring of staff, breaches of procedures in the travel arrangements of its former board chairman, and excessive spending. Since then, the three Jamaican members of the board — Chairman Perceval Badahoo-Singh, Richard Creary, and Harold Malcolm — tendered their resignations, Cabinet approved the appointment of new board members, and two senior staffers have also resigned.

However, allegations of nepotism, mismanagement and questionable financial decisions have also sparked calls from the Opposition People's National Party (PNP) for a probe by the Major Organized Crime and Anti-Corruption Agency.

But during his address yesterday at a Rotary Club of Kingston luncheon at the Jamaica Pegasus hotel, Dr Chang said that the matter is being carefully watched by the Government and that it is awaiting a report on operations at the State-owned oil refinery, which has since been ordered by Cabinet.

When asked if the Government has dealt with the matter adequately, he responded by saying: “So far, yes. The challenge we have [is that] it's a major company and the reports are exciting news, but we can't operate off the emotional side; we have to go at it in a factual way and that is why the Cabinet has asked for this report so we can deal with all the facts.”

Additionally, Dr Chang said, “If anything emerges we will deal with it decisively. The board itself, which was there, has been replaced and now we are moving [forward] because if we find anything corrupt, it will be dealt with and I'm sure the prime minister will deal with it decisively, but we can't deal with it based on reports and allegations, which is what we have so far.”

Permanent secretary in the Ministry of Science, Energy and Technology Dr Alwin Hayles has been directed by Cabinet to prepare a report on the operations of Petrojam, with specific attention to various allegations in the public domain.

The report is expected to be ready for the next sitting of Cabinet on Monday, when it is expected that Dr Hayles and Petrojam's senior management team will attend and present the report.

In the meantime, Opposition spokesman on energy Phillip Paulwell, who has labelled the situation a “deepening crisis”, said that the ongoing investigations by the auditor general and the Office of the Contractor General must continue to their completion and that those responsible for acts of corruption or fraud, or any other breach, must be held accountable.

The PNP spokesman also said the revelation in the Public Administration and Appropriations Committee of Parliament last week that the chairman of the board was paid by the agency when he made claims for reimbursement of travel and other expenses for which he was not entitled, is beyond troubling.

He further insisted that all the other matters, including “the wanton and unlawful dismal of staff, the hiring of unqualified persons in sensitive positions and at unusually high salaries, the breach of procedure in travel arrangements for the chairman and payments to him for airline tickets he did not use, the unprecedented cost overrun for the construction of the oil refinery wall, the unusual and unnecessary retainer being paid to an events company, as well as questionable donations made by the agency, must be thoroughly investigated and the chips fall where they may”.

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