Fri | Jan 18, 2019

JaRistotle’s Jottings | Keep politics out of Petroscam

Published:Friday | December 14, 2018 | 12:00 AM

The auditor general's report has exposed the rot within Petrojam. Logic would suggest that it would be full speed ahead on the part of the Integrity Commission, the Major Organised Crime and Anti-Corruption Agency (MOCA) and the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (ODPP) to review the findings, determine the need for more detailed investigations to establish culpability, and initiate legal proceedings, whether criminal or civil, where pertinent.

Instead, political posturing appears to be the order of the day, with pronouncements akin to 'the prime minister (PM) will be reviewing the report and plans to hold consultations with the relevant persons and entities having regard to the findings', culminating in a press conference where he espouses the need for restitution and a forensic audit.

If we are not careful, this matter could well become another nine-day wonder and disappear into nothingness, another scandal laid to rest by our politicians. The appropriate thing for the PM to do at this time is declare that the matter be handled from hereon by the relevant agencies, whether MOCA, the Integrity Commission, or the ODPP.

By way of a reminder, the report highlights multibillion-dollar losses owing to unaccountability and poor management, non-adherence to government procurement guidelines, inconsistent recruitment and employment practices, and inadequate oversight and monitoring of operations.

These findings speak to issues that run contrary to good corporate governance prescriptions, and which fall under the mandate of the three agencies above and have opened the door for their intervention.

The ODPP has the responsibility to institute and undertake criminal proceedings against any person before any court in respect of any offence against the laws of Jamaica. The Integrity Commission is charged with investigating alleged or suspected acts of corruption. Similarly, MOCA is charged with tackling corruption in the public sector and bringing high-value criminal targets to justice.

There is no shortage of independent mandates, and no need for the PM to direct any restitution and forensic audit. The relevant agencies need to get on with determining the appropriate courses of action, according to their mandates. What the political hierarchy should focus on are the policy aspects of the problem: strengthening the governance and management arrangements for public bodies, and improving compliance.

 

FACE CARD

 

None of the Petroscam issues pertain to lower-level employees, but, rather, to the directorship and executive of Petrojam, failures who would have been appointed or hired by the political directorate.

The Public Bodies Management and Accountability Act (PBMA Act) speaks to the duty of directors of public bodies regarding the efficient and effective management of

the public body; to ensuring accountability for the resources of the public body; and to developing adequate control, evaluation and reporting systems within the body; to acting honestly and in good faith in the best interest of the public body, and of exercising due care, diligence and skill.

However, by the very nature of the issues addressed within the auditor general's report, the inference is that these accountability requirements had gone into exile at Petrojam.

Now, the same PBMA Act has grandfather clauses that serve as a stay-out-of-jail card for negligent directors. Section 19 allows for avoidance of liability if directors can prove that in performing their duties, they relied on reports, official documents and information tendered by authorised persons acting in their professional capacities.

We should, therefore, exercise caution, lest the PM's restitution ploy becomes a face card to a larger gambit, that of applying Section 19 to protect those who had been masquerading as directors. And remember, we have been down this path before with Petrojam, audits and all.

Keep the politics out of Petroscam.

Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.