'Nothing to hide,' says PM

Holness promises to table Petrojam non-disclosure agreement in Parliament

BY SHANAE STEWART
Observer staff reporter
stewarts@jamaicaobserver.com

Monday, February 11, 2019

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Prime Minister Andrew Holness yesterday said he would table in Parliament the non-disclosure agreement between Petrojam's former Human Resource and Administration Manager Yolande Ramharrack and the State-owned oil refinery, in a move obviously designed to ease the heavy flak the Government has been taking on the issue.

At the same time, Holness said he has asked the attorney general (AG) to review confidentiality clauses in the public sector to ensure that there is no infringement on the public's right to know.

“There are some people who are of the view that we are hiding and we don't want to tell the country what is going on, and so there is only one way to resolve this. I have given notice to the AG that in addition to formulating new rules and regulations about the use of confidentiality clauses, I will be tabling the [non-disclosure] agreement in Parliament because it is such a matter of important public interest,” Holness told a Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) Area Council One meeting at Pembroke Hall Community Centre in the St Andrew North Western constituency represented by Finance Minister Dr Nigel Clarke.

The Government has been receiving heavy criticism after it emerged last week that Ramharrack, who received an unfavourable review by the auditor general, received a $9.2-million payout in a non-disclosure separation agreement.

Yesterday, Holness, who is the leader of the JLP, insisted that the Petrojam board made the right decision, given the situation, even though emotionally it does not sit well with him.

“Everything that the Government does, in dealing with corruption, it must follow a process because not following a process is also a form of corruption,” he said.

“I have asked the attorney general to review the use of confidentiality clauses in Government contracts, to see what rules and regulations can be put in place to ensure that they are never used in any way, shape, or form that would suggest that Parliament could not get information,” the prime minister said, adding that the attorney general has advised him on how to fulfil the public's right to know and still abide by a legally binding contract.

He argued that emotions had to be removed from the decision-making process, and the most economic decision was made in relation to the settlement with Ramharrack.

“The board did not want to take the [settlement] action, because it doesn't send the right signal, but at the same time taxpayers' money cannot be wasted,” he said.

The prime minister stated that when the board calculated the costs of the process that would be needed to rectify the issue, the board opted to go the more economic route.

“After the auditor general completed the review and made its report, issues were raised. The board, following the law, instituted proceedings to hear the charges and concerns. There are some people who feel the board and management should have just dismissed the employee, and while I understand the frustration of the people, as I too was very frustrated, the law must be followed,” he added.

Holness said that in order for the matter to be placed before the Industrial Disputes Tribunal (IDT), an internal panel would have to be put in place to first hear the charge, seeing that the particular employee was not hired on a contractual basis but was a permanent employee, therefore a separate set of rules would apply.

He further explained that the process which was implemented by Petrojam would be completed in 40 hours.

Holness basically repeated his explanation about the cost of the process in the Parliament last week, pointing out that the internal panel would comprise a Petrojam lawyer, three independent analysts, and the employee's lawyer. The three independent analysts would be paid an estimated $100,000 per hour and Petrojam's attorney would also need to be paid. All this would cost about $5.5 million before the matter would be brought before the IDT.

Holness commended the auditor general for investigating and bringing the issue to Parliament, and also the media for bringing the issues to the public.


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