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Wheatley needs to give account in Petrojam saga, says Phillips

BY GARFIELD MYERS
Editor-at-Large
South/Central Bureau
myersg@jamaicaobserver.com

Saturday, June 23, 2018

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MANDEVILLE, Manchester — He stopped short of calling for the resignation of Energy Minister Andrew Wheatley over what is being described as the Petrojam scandal.

However, Opposition Leader Peter Phillips said Thursday that there should be a proper “accounting” from the minister regarding alleged corrupt behaviour and irregularities at the State-run oil refinery.

Phillips, who is president of the People's National Party (PNP) and a former finance minister, also called on the Petrojam board of directors — which includes new Jamaican members following resignations over recent days — to conduct a forensic audit so as to identify a money trail.

“I would urge the new board… immediately to conduct a forensic audit, that is to say an audit that can tell us where monies were spent, who got the monies, what was done with it, so the taxpayers of the country can be clear what happened to their resources,” Phillips said.

Phillips told an audience of mostly PNP supporters at the launch of community development projects in Greenvale — just west of the Mandeville town centre, represented by his son Mikael, member of parliament for Manchester North Western — that Wheatley had serious questions to answer.

“It will not be enough to simply say you have appointed new directors in the place of old directors at Petrojam and think that will represent a sufficient accounting,” Phillips said.

“The question would arise: If there was no board meeting for nine months (as has been reported), who was giving directions… How is it that persons alleged to have been connected to the minister were appointed to positions with levels of pay in excess of anything in the organisation before?” he said.

“At the very minimum the minister needs to give us an accounting of his role in the period when these clear breaches of rules occurred. The people of Jamaica need to have their trust in their institutions restored. It can only be restored if there is an accounting…,” Phillips said.

Asked by journalists whether he was calling for the resignation of Wheatley, Phillips said: “I am saying we need to hear from him first.”

Petrojam is in the midst of a growing firestorm over allegations of victimisation, nepotism, and misuse of funds running into many millions of dollars at the oil refinery which is owned by the Jamaican Government (51 per cent) and Venezuela (49 per cent).

The PNP as well as private sector groups have voiced alarm at the allegations. The Opposition has called for an investigation into the situation at Petrojam by the Major Organised Crime and Anti-Corruption Agency (MOCA). The party has also rejected the assigning of permanent secretary in the Ministry of Science, Energy, and Technology Hillary Alexander to conduct an investigation on the basis of possible conflict of interest.

Using biblical language to dramatise his arguments, Phillips said Thursday that the “critical point is that there can be no remission of sins without the shedding of blood… what we talking about is accountability. When all is accounted for, someone must be held accountable for this waste and misuse and corrupt misuse of taxpayers' money…”

“We need to have the investigations completed by the Integrity Commission. The auditor general is there and we have called for MOCA to get involved. We don't know when they will finish but someone must be held accountable (for) all the various corrupt activities that have been brought to light recently. We are not seeing the ultimate political authority willing to shoulder any responsibility and I don't think that that is appropriate…,” he said.

Phillips said corruption in governance and society “saps” the confidence of people and destroys trust in authority figures and institutions.

“We are in the midst of a crisis of corruption in the country and the worst thing about corruption is that it breaks down trust in the nation as a whole and between (leaders) and communities… people have a right to trust those who would lead them.

“People who pay taxes have a legitimate expectation that their hard-earned money is going to be used for the purpose that they are paying the taxes for. and when corruption raises its ugly head what we have is a breakdown of trust and confidence in government and the spreading of mistrust, disbelief in government, and a build-up in animosity in communities; and the only way you can solve that problem when it appears is by open, transparent, honest accounting,” Phillips said.

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