Opposition's withdrawal of cooperation would be disservice to Jamaicans, says PM

Observer staff reporter

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

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Prime Minister Andrew Holness yesterday suggested that the Opposition People's National Party (PNP) would be guilty of a disservice to the Jamaican people if it carried out its threat to withdraw cooperation with the Government on matters of national importance.

At the same time, Holness said that the Government will maintain its thrust to develop and strengthen partnerships not just with the Opposition but with the private sector and civil society.

“We want to have the Opposition participate in the critical things of the country, so we have taken a posture where we share information with them, we invite them to sit on critical committees; we have invited them to sit on, for example, the National Security Committee... and they had been attending meetings,” Holness said when the Jamaica Observer asked him for a response to the Opposition's threat after he made a personal donation to the family of 14-year-old Tahj Rowe, who suffered brain damage when he was being delivered at Victoria Jubilee Hospital.

The family has been facing delays in the law suit they filed against the Government.

Opposition Leader Dr Peter Phillips issued the threat at a news conference on Monday morning, saying that Holness needed to remove Dr Andrew Wheatley from all ministerial duties.

“Smooth Government in our system requires extensive cooperation between Government and Opposition in all kinds of areas — cooperation in relation to the passage of legislation, consultation and collaboration in regards to appointment of boards, (and) far-reaching policy initiatives. All of these things, including how we conduct ourselves in the Parliament, are standard in our democracy. What we are saying is that we expect the prime minister to act, and failure to do so will bring into question the basis for further collaboration in all of these areas,” Phillips said.

Monday's statement was the PNP's latest call on the prime minister to sack Wheatley who, up to July 4, had portfolio responsibility for the State oil refinery Petrojam, which is at the centre of damaging allegations of misuse of public funds, poor management, cronyism and breach of contractual procedures.

The allegations are being investigated by three State agencies.

Last week, Jamaica House announced that the energy portfolio had been transferred from Wheatley's ministry to the Office of the Prime Minister. However, Wheatley remains in the Cabinet in charge of the science and technology portfolios.

On Monday, Phillips said that the prime minister's decision to relieve Wheatley of the energy portfolio, while leaving him with Cabinet responsibility for the other areas of the ministry, raises more questions than answers.

He said that there was a “litany of corrupt practices and breaches of public trust at Petrojam”, and argued that this behaviour could spread to the other areas of the ministry.

Yesterday, Holness said he had expected the Opposition to seek to gain political mileage from the Petrojam issue. However, he said that in modern politics a level of maturity has to be exhibited.

“Not everything should be sacrificed on the altar of political expediency,” Holness said, adding that Jamaicans will see that in dealing with the Petrojam matter, he acted in a transparent manner and that there was no attempt to conceal anything.

“As I have said, we immediately acted, we have removed the portfolio, we have made certain policy changes that will not just affect Petrojam but generally improve the operations and management and governance of public bodies, and we now have the great opportunity to reform Petrojam and to take a serious look at the long-term prospect of our refinery in a commercial sense and in an energy-security sense,” Holness said.

He said that the public must also bear in mind that investigations into the operations of Petrojam are ongoing.

“We have called up the people in the ministry who should have information, we have interviewed them and, based upon that, we have taken action. We have not taken action which is based on rumours and allegations, we have taken action based upon what we can establish, and that action has seen the portfolio being removed from the minister. We are still discovering, still interviewing persons. Yesterday I had a long meeting with the senior management and staff of the energy division and Petrojam and we are working towards discovering if there are other issues that have to be addressed. so I think the public should be very confident that there is no attempt at cover up, hiding or ignoring the serious allegations that have been made,” Holness said.

“But the public must also bear in mind that there is a process. It is the same public that will say 'why didn't you follow[the process],' it is the same Opposition who will criticise and say 'why not follow,' and we are following a process,” Holness explained.

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