Columns

Petrojam — The albatross around the JLP's neck

Raulston
Nembhard

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

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If the Andrew Holness-led Administration is not careful, Petrojam may yet prove to be the albatross around the neck of his term in office very much as the Dudus-Manatt affair became that of the Bruce Golding Administration's.

As events have revealed, the scandal at the refinery continues to deepen with the recent revelation of the hefty sum of money paid to the former human resources and administration manager, Yolande Ramharrack, and the non-disclosure agreement (NDA) of separation she worked out with the board.

Just when we thought the Administration had been jolted, as the country was, by the reported corruption at the refinery, we are now being treated to the spectacle of ongoing bungling, mismanagement and obvious incompetence there. This has been further exacerbated by the prime minister's waffling and tortured response to questions raised in Parliament for him to justify the huge sums paid out to the former resource manager.

Specifically, the NDA came under scrutiny as people are dumbfounded that a sovereign Parliament could not know the details of an agreement worked out between one of its agencies and a private citizen when taxpayers' money was involved. Holness was not convincing in assuaging people's disgust as to why this deal was made and why his Administration appears to be hogtied by it.

His public utterances since have still not helped, but seem to have poured more gasoline on a raging inferno. I am at a loss to understand why the prime minister continues to expend important political capital on a matter like this. Why is it that he believes he has to continue to be the minister under whose portfolio all of these things are happening? Even if he did not have direct responsibility for this ministry which he assigned himself, he would still be required to account for what is happening there under his watch as prime minister. To insert himself into the matter, as minister, is to get himself more involved in the detailed running of the ministry and all its attendant agencies. He gets involved in the weeds and the thickets of a mess that is not doing him personally any good.

There may be important things at Petrojam such as the divestment of the refinery or its closure, and the buyback of the shares from Venezuela that are preoccupying his attention. He may feel that he should see these through. But, as prime minister, does he have to be at the helm of the ministry to see these policies through? Ultimately, these are decisions that have to be hammered out at Cabinet meetings over which he presides.

And what of the other areas of the portfolios of the Ministry of Science, Technology and Energy that need to be attended to? With all the matters he has to contend with as prime minister, where does he get the time and the energy to give robust attention to these other matters? He would be well advised to appoint a new minister for this troubled ministry.

So far, in terms of governance, he does not appear to be doing a good job there.

Prime Minister, there are not many in your inner circle who will tell you that you are no Hercules. Stop expending precious political and reputational capital on a losing proposition.

By holding on to that which you should let go, Prime Minister, you are giving fodder to an Opposition that does not deserve any.

History has shown that the People's National Party (PNP) in Government has presided over corrupt practices and scandals over the years. To hear present PNP President Dr Peter Phillips berate the Government on its record of corruption grates on the nerves as hollow and hypocritical, given its own record of his party in Government.

Yet, one knows that they must call attention to what the Government is doing as they are indeed Her Majesty's loyal Opposition, and they are being paid to do so by the taxpayers. But, given their own record, a little humility on their part would go a far way.

All of what has been happening at Petrojam again points to the larger perception of corruption in the wider society. I will flog this horse no further than to say there needs to be more robust attention shown by the Government if it is to buttress its many speeches about the need to end it.

In a public address, the prime minister has called on people, including Labourites, to put the fight against corruption at the forefront of their struggle to build a just and prosperous society. If Holness wants to lead from the front, he could begin by doing a number of things. First, he must divest himself of the Ministry of Science, Technology and Energy. He should then put in place at Petrojam an independent pricing commission to deal with all matters relating to how oil is priced to the public. As well, he must ensure that in the next financial year there is a robust increase in the budget allocated to the National Integrity Commission. This would allow them to hire more staff and thus enhance their investigatory capabilities. While he is at this, he may consider amending the National Integrity Act to ensure that the activities of this body are more transparent and open to the public. We are tired of the talk. We need to see action and results.

Dr Raulston Nembhard is a priest and social commentator. Send comments to the Observer or stead6655@aol.com.


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