Fri | May 29, 2020

Daniel Thwaites | Andrew’s salts

Published:Friday | June 29, 2018 | 12:00 AM
Prime Minister Andrew Holness (right) and Energy Minister Andrew Wheatley in a tete-a-tete in Parliament in May.

When do you need Andrew's salts? The morning after the big party. We've already had cause to wonder aloud whether the big Wakanda-themed party Andrew Wheatley threw after his Budget presentation wasn't the harbinger of big tings to come.

Remember? "Tonight Black Panther feeling to pawty! Tonight Black Panther feeling to Petrojam! Jam! Jam! Jam! Jam!" But it turns out the party may have been going on from long before, and on multiple fronts.

But I don't only want to talk about Andrew the Lesser, because the decision-making of Andrew the Greater needs to also come into focus. So let's step back a little before moving forward to draw all this together and see what's going on. All you need to know is that Lesser Andrew was a great supporter of Greater Andrew, especially in the travails faced when Audley got rambunctious and ambitious (yuh si weh him deh now? Bush!)

You see, in all this brouhaha about Petrojam, I thought the PM hadn't addressed The Great Bushing Scandal of 2016-2017 yet. But it turns out I was wrong about that. Last December, the Greater Andrew did, in fact, come to the aid and defence of his accused colleagues, including Lesser Andrew, and stated definitively that he would be taking NO action against them.

 

NO SPECIFIC ALLEGATION

 

Greater Andrew's reasoning was that no specific allegation was made against the ministers. Suffice it to say that that's a whopper, a statement of 'alternative facts', or as I prefer to call it, a pants-on-fire truth readjustment.

In fact, the allegations were shockingly specific. The contractor general had explained in careful detail how all the evidence (except, of course, for their denials) pointed to the fact that tons of loot ostensibly for bushing were ladled out at the direction of Cabinet ministers. The impressive detail gathered by Dirk Harrison, the then contractor general, was unusual, mostly because he had interviewed a participant, under oath, before the political apparatus had got to the participant and instructed him that he should lawyer up, answer no more questions, and generally STFU (Shut The Fire Up).

Cue up the accusations of 'farrin mind' if you would like, but it's worth noting that in the USA, that sort of thing would have led to further investigations, multiple indictments, a volley of prosecutions, some satisfying plea bargaining, and the end of a few careers. Here it led to a big YAAAWWWWWN and back to business as usual.

You may think I've dredged up this ancient history to criticise. You're wrong. While it's true that Wakanda Wheatley was one of the ministers involved, that's not primarily why that ancient history is worth noting here. In fact, I come to praise... the prime minister. And to show how he's setting up to perform the same magic all over again.

I mean this genuinely: The rhetorical dexterity of the Greater Andrew is truly spectacular, and that's the altar at which I think all of us who are practitioners of the persuasive arts have to bow.

As we know, the great batsmen get information about the state of the pitch before stepping out on to it. In fact, whenever possible, they go and roll it themselves. On top of that, they have a mysterious knack for getting lucky.

 

VIRTUOSO PERFORMANCE

 

That's why, in my estimation, the PM's virtuoso performance in Parliament began, not in Parliament, but with an extraordinary headline in this Sunday Gleaner newspaper. It read: 'PM's Petrojam headache - Holness vows to take strong action to clean up oil refinery and position it for divestment'.

What good luck and fortune for Greater Andrew. Because, upon inspection, it turned out that he had "vowed" no such thing. In fact, amazingly, Greater Andrew wasn't quoted in the whole article! All the same, by this ingenious means, he was able to do and say something without actually doing or saying anything. Plus, courtesy of the unnamed source, it's divestment that's the key issue on the table. Who knew?

Next day, word was that the Cabinet was locked in a very lengthy meeting, fact-finding, analysing, and grilling the knowledgeable parties. By Tuesday, the PM's delivery in Parliament was an impressive master class in rhetorical strategy. And during the follow-up questions, for which members had to fight Pearnel, the neutral speaker, Greater Andrew was able to maintain a poker face. Students ought to watch it closely.

As an index of his soothsaying virtuosity, consider that the PM was able to talk about Petrojam for hours without really mentioning Lesser Andrew. At least I didn't hear it, and I captured a fair deal of the back and forth. That's skill, yo! And that's just the beginning.

For whenever individual accountability was insisted upon, Greater Andrew brandished the shield of Cabinet. Where identified breaches were highlighted, Greater Andrew shifted gears into talk about policy. Whenever specific allegations were raised - some even already proven or undisputed - Greater Andrew parried with the need for determinate knowledge as a preface to action. When prime ministerial action and responsibility was urged, Greater Andrew retired into the shadows of procedure, and letting the government agencies work unfettered by his involvement. Where others expressed urgency, Andrew coolly suggested caution and patience.

It was achieved so swaggerifically, that all in all, I was impressed and nearly even won over. It took the intervention of the PSOJ and then the NIA to put me back on track with the Howard Mitchell and Trevor Munroe antidotes to the Andrew's salts. The timely reminders were that the Greater Andrew need not, and ought not, wait to act, that the power is in his hands and nobody else's, and that public confidence is leaching.

Meanwhile, the mounds of incriminating caca keeps growing. First, it was all about the overseas chairman with the fake trips, and reported concubinage in the HR Department. Now comes an insurance deal that's kinda hard to explain. As I pointed out last week, all that's kiddy play when you think on the negligence regarding the company's future. But this week, the unimaginable happened: It got worse.

 

DISCREPANCIES

 

Here's the dynamite in the audit:

Price and volume discrepancies between invoiced figures and the cargo discharge certificates, showing millions of US-dollar losses.

Direct contracting out of goods and services and use of emergency procedures 69 per cent of the time for local procurement.

Unexplained oil losses during fiscal year 2016-2017 exceeding established limits.

This audit leaves so much explaining to do that I'm not sure even the masterful Greater Andrew can manage it. And there isn't a politician in the world that can manage it once it dawns on the consumers (and voters) of this country that they are, and have been, paying for graft and corruption with each gallon at the petrol pump.

But how else do you explain oil all of a sudden being offloaded at Port Esquivel, or all the direct contracting, or volume and price discrepancies, or worse, the weird shift in the standard deviation of fuel losses seeming to track so neatly the change of Government in 2016?

So here's the deal: The choreography is going well, but I don't think the Lesser Andrew can be saved. Greater Andrew's efforts on behalf of Lesser Andrew have already been valiant, so he has repaid his political debt, rewarded the Lesser Andrew for his loyalty, and soon it will be time to cut the ballast.

The Lesser Andrew will have join Audley, even further out in the pasture, or else both Andrews salt.

- Daniel Thwaites is an attorney-at-law. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.