Sun | May 19, 2019

Editorial | Tough job for Fayval Williams

Published:Friday | February 15, 2019 | 12:10 AM

Nobody could ever claim that Fayval Williams isn’t academically qualified for her new job. She has the benefit of an education from one of Jamaica’s top high schools, Ferncourt in St Ann, and two of the world’s finest universities – Harvard, where she read for her undergraduate degree, and University of Pennsylvania, from whose prestigious Wharton Business School she received her MBA.

And with her background in economics and finance, no one ought to be able to pull the wool over her eyes with regard to the finances of the agencies for which she now has responsibility.

But that said, despite the claims made by Prime Minister Andrew Holness about what has been achieved over the past several months, Mrs Williams faces the daunting task of cleaning up the mess she has inherited and rebuilding public confidence in the Ministry of Science, Energy and Technology, to which she has been assigned.

Nothing in her ministerial background indicates whether she is up to the job despite her nearly three years in the finance ministry and as full minister, supporting Audley Shaw and, latterly, Dr Nigel Clarke.

In the first instance, the public sense was that she was at the ministry as a sort of ring-fence around Mr Shaw to assuage Prime Minister Holness that the senior minister would not go off on a frolic of his own that would undermine Jamaica’s fiscal reform agreement with the IMF. If that was indeed the case, hers would be primarily a back-channel operation, of which the public would see little. And once Mr Holness’ real preference as finance minister, Dr Clarke, was installed, she, perforce, had little room to parade her skills.

CANVAS OF CRAWLS AND SMUDGES

Now, though, Mrs Williams is being given a canvas of largely crawls and smudges, which she is being asked to convert to a coherent picture in which Jamaicans don’t perceive graft corruption and the sacking of the Treasury. Her most immediate task must be to sort out the Petrojam oil refinery, including the arrangements by which Jamaica plans to reacquire Venezuela’s 49 per cent stake in the entity.

All matters relating to Petrojam are pressing, but how she tackles the seemingly reckless impunity with which the refinery was managed is what the public will first pay attention to.

Dr Andrew Wheatley was forced out, or voluntarily gave up the energy portfolio last year, in the face of the scandal over unaccounted-for oil, cronyism, nepotistic hirings, and the engagement of a poor-performing human resource manager, who was placed on a fast track for salary increases even though she didn’t possess the stipulated qualifications for the job. When Petrojam decided to dismiss this manager, she, despite facing 19 disciplinary charges, received a settlement package of over J$13 million, which was initially declared to be a third less than the real figure. A non-disclosure agreement was appended to the settlement.

The confusion and contortions over this matter happened, unfortunately, under Prime Minister Holness’ watch. He assumed the portfolio after Dr Wheatley’s departure.

It is probably an attempt to push this issue as far as possible from Mr Holness that Permanent Secretary Sancia Bennett Templer, who gave stumbling explanations about the matter to Parliamentary committees, has been shunted from the Office of the Prime Minister in this realignment of the Government.

But even when she deals with this matter, Mrs Williams has to work a long-term strategy for Petrojam, including how it fits in Jamaica’s energy matrix, as well as manage the political ramifications of Jamaica’s use of legislation to forcefully reacquire the Venezuelan shares.

These are not all, though. The scale of the Petrojam scandal may have overshadowed everything, but there are also serious questions about the operations of the energy company NESoL and the Universal Service Fund.