Fri | Jul 19, 2019

Jeanette Calder | Andrew, do the right thing!

Published:Tuesday | January 8, 2019 | 12:00 AM
Jeanette Calder
Prime Minister Andrew Holness has not been a stickler for performance and accountability from Member of Parliament Dr Andrew Wheatley. Ricardo Makyn/Multimedia Photo Editor
Andrew Wheatley is still under fire for his oversight of the energy portfolio. File
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Dr Andrew Wheatley, who has demonstrably shown next to no regard for the use of public resources entrusted to his oversight, has been appointed by the prime minister (PM) to sit on a panel to look into poverty alleviation. The PM has not done the right thing.

"On the day of election, I witnessed a young man carrying, cradled in his arm, an obviously bedridden elderly man from a polling station. I was touched by the sight. In the bustle of the busy schoolyard, as they passed, the elderly man pointed his ink-stained finger at me and said, 'Andrew, do the right thing!' That was his hope."

Those words of the prime minister at his swearing-in ceremony reinforced the hope. Standing before us as the ninth Jamaican to lead this island, Prime Minister Holness further declared: "There is only so much trust that pledges and statements of commitment can buy. I understand that the Jamaican people now want to see action in building trust." Strong words, good words, true words. He went further: "I stand here humbled by the awesome power of you, the people, and I commit to doing right by you." We, the people, have kept watch for the signs of fulfilment of this promise, but the findings of the contractor general's reports into roadworks contracts ahead of local government elections and the auditor general's (AG) reports over the last two years have painted a less-than-encouraging picture of the promised change and transformation.

Petrojam provides another test of the PM's resolve. Among the many aspects of this test is the question of accountability and the fate of Dr Wheatley. On July 10, 2018, the prime minister told the Parliament, "The board reports directly to the minister, not the permanent secretary, and takes policy direction from the minister." Section 93 of the Constitution of Jamaica states explicitly that the minister is to exercise not just direction but CONTROL, where he/she has been charged with the responsibility for a subject or department of government. Just about every one of the many issues covered in the AG's reports was in need of the minister's attention, direction and control. They got next to none.

 

Objective measures

 

Using the Government's own objective measures, Dr Wheatley's performance as a minister was extremely substandard. The Corporate Governance Framework for Public Bodies requires the permanent secretary to "provide periodic reports to the minister on issues pertaining to public bodies, particularly on matters which will impact significantly on the portfolio."

The Public Bodies Management and Accountability Act speaks to quarterly, biannual and annual reports to be submitted to the Parliament through the minister. Annual corporate plans for Petrojam that contain the entity's budget and performance targets never made it once under Dr Wheatley. These would surely have alerted the minister to the facts that Petrojam was experiencing significant declining profits and its debt had ballooned some 769 per cent! Dr Wheatley's claims of ignorance as his alibi, while stating that to act would have been perceived as ministerial interference, was disrespectful to Jamaica.

That the former minister would mount either claim as his best defence is grounds enough to disqualify his return to the Cabinet. But even more alarming was the prime minister's position: "I need to see that he understands his own shortcomings ... . I am a believer in second chances ... in redemption, and as a Christian, that's my principle ... . There are still investigations and reports outstanding, so there could be no decision or consideration of Dr Wheatley's return at this time." Even without the findings of other investigations, there is enough for a prime minister serious about performance and accountability to act decisively with regard to Dr Wheatley's readiness for special or ministerial responsibilities.

On inauguration day 2016, Prime Minister Holness said: "There is no doubt that significant numbers of Jamaicans have lost hope in our system, but I am encouraged that a far larger number maintains faith, keeps hope and continues to pray that Jamaica will grow and prosper." The PM should bear in mind his role in the fulfilment of those hopes and prayers. Like the old man with the ink-stained finger on election day, we say, "Andrew, do the right thing."

Jeanette Calder is a researcher and member of the Jamaica Civil Society Forum. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and jayceejm@yahoo.com.

Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.