Fri | May 29, 2020

Garth Rattray | Petrojam symptomatic of society

Published:Sunday | July 1, 2018 | 12:00 AM

Thanks to the Public Administration and Appropriations Committee (PAAC) of Parliament, many irregularities were uncovered at Petrojam, Jamaica's only petroleum refinery.

Petrojam is a statutory body, a limited liability company partly owned (51 per cent) by the Petroleum Corporation of Jamaica and, PDVCaribe, a subsidiary of Petroleos de Venezuela (the remaining 49 per cent). Petrojam supplies a full range of petroleum products to the island.

It all began way back in March 1964. It was built and operated by Esso and was sold to the Government of Jamaica in 1982.

Petrojam is a powerful company, and you know what they say about power. For many years, in my little office, I've been hearing numerous complaints of mismanagement and poor business practices at Petrojam. So, it came as no surprise to me when this 'controversy' came into the public view.

The media report the discovery of deviation from government policy guidelines, abandonment of procurement procedures, breaches of rules and regulations, and repeated inconsistency regarding travel funding. There have been allegations of nepotism, unfair dismissals, the hiring of unqualified personnel, exorbitant salaries and massive project cost overruns.

Furthermore, it was brought to light that two of the three Jamaican board members reside overseas. They all resigned in the wake of the tidal wave of controversy.

These discoveries brought into question contracts with consultants and various corporate donations. In other words, Petrojam is experiencing a rather nasty, metaphorical oil spill that will prove extremely difficult to clean up.

Naturally, there was the usual perfunctory promise of 'tough action' against anyone found guilty of misconduct or impropriety - or worse in this matter.

All this comes at a particularly bad time. The media quote: "The prime minister has told his Cabinet colleagues that now is the time to clean up Petrojam and get it into shape for divestment." Added to this, Petrojam is being forced to diversify its products since the Jamaica Public Service Company is shifting its energy source from heavy-duty oil to cleaner and more cost-effective natural gases.

What's going on at Petrojam is symptomatic of the wider society. In 2017, Transparency International's Corruption Perception Index (which "... aggregates data from a number of different sources that provide perceptions of business people and country experts of the level of corruption in the public sector") assigned Jamaica 44 points, which ranked us 68 out of 176 countries - an improvement over the 2016 ranking. The points structure is such that 0 is highly corrupt and 100 is very clean. The global average score was just 43. Somalia was last with 10 points, while Denmark and New Zealand tied for first place with 90 points.

 

MASSIVE CORRUPTION

 

I honestly believe that we are far more corrupt than is evident. Slow, antiquated and slovenly bureaucracy has opened the door to corruption within the public system, and that, in turn, has ballooned into massive corrupt practices for huge amounts, especially when certain contracts are awarded.

Then there are various 'boys' clubs' and 'social networking' that assure a steady stream of employment for the faithfully connected. You won't hear of grafts and kickbacks because they are now euphemistically called 'contributions' and 'finder's fees'.

If you ask around, the vast majority of Jamaicans will tell you that they do not expect anything much to come out of this investigation. Some people have resigned, but many others who facilitated the wrongs by their actions or inactions stay in the system at Petrojam. The same applies to many government concerns - the root of the problem always remains.

What are we then to expect from the 'common man', who sees such shenanigans from the 'bigger heads'? Until there is real accountability at the highest level, endemic corruption will thrive.

- Garth A. Rattray is a medical doctor with a family practice. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and garthrattray@gmail.com.