Petrojam again!

Opposition questions new board appointments without public announcement

BY ALPHEA SAUNDERS
Senior staff reporter
saundersa@jamaicaobserver.com

Saturday, September 21, 2019

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THE Opposition People's National Party (PNP) yesterday called on Energy Minister Fayval Williams to explain the appointment of four new members to the board of Petrojam, the State-owned oil refinery which has been the centre of controversies for months.

Opposition spokesman for mining and energy, Phillip Paulwell, in a statement yesterday, claimed that the board of the refinery has been expanded without any public announcement.

He told the Jamaica Observer that he was reliably informed of the appointments by an “impeccable” source, and has in fact seen one of the appointment letters. He also named the four persons in his statement.

Efforts to reach the energy minister for comment were unsuccessful.

Paulwell said that according to the document the appointment was approved by way of a Cabinet decision, dated August 26, 2019, and communicated to Petrojam on September 2, 2019. He said the Cabinet decision did not give any background on the new members to the Paul Hoo-chaired board, but that it is his understanding that two of the new board members reside overseas.

He noted that former board chairman Perceval Badahoo-Singh, who resigned during the ballooning of the recent Petrojam scandal also lived overseas.

Badahoo-Singh was at the centre of a dispute regarding money claimed for airline tickets for an official event. Just this Tuesday the Public Administration and Appropriations Committee (PAAC) of Parliament insisted that information regarding that matter was still outstanding from the energy ministry.

Last June, Cabinet appointed Hoo, former chairman of Supreme Ventures, and former vice-presidents of Scotia Bank, Rosie Pilner and Wayne Powell to the board of the embattled State entity, following the resignations of Badahoo-Singh and directors Harold Malcom and Richard Creary.

Paulwell said yesterday that the minister should now disclose whether Petrojam was again paying travel and other expenses for these new directors, in contravention of new rules announced by Prime Minister Andrew Holness a year ago.

The Opposition spokesman said the energy minister should also give details on the current size and composition of the full Petrojam board and state whether any non-Jamaican interests are represented.

The Petrojam board originally comprised six members – three of them representing Venezuela's stake in the refinery. However, the Government is now in the midst of proceedings to take ownership of the 49 per cent shares held by Venezuela's State-owned oil company, Petróleos de Venezuela, SA (PDVSA).

Parliament passed legislation in February for the compulsory acquisition of the shares, on the grounds that among other things, the partners had not fulfilled their end of the arrangement for upgrading of the refinery.

PDVSA has since brought a compensation claim against the Jamaican Government in the Supreme Court.

Meanwhile Paulwell also questioned the addition of new members to the board while the Government is actively engaged in winding down the operations of the Petroleum Corporation of Jamaica (PCJ), its parent company.

He reiterated the Opposition's call for a forensic audit of the PCJ before closing it down and transferring its functions to the Ministry of Science, Technology and Energy and, that for transparency, Minister Williams is obligated to present a full statement on plans to wind down the corporation's operations.

Meanwhile, Paulwell said statements made by head of the Public Sector Transformation Committee Danny Roberts regarding the subsuming of the PCJ into the energy ministry contradicts a statement Minister Williams made in Parliament on Tuesday.


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