Sun | Jun 16, 2019

Devon Dick | Commission of enquiry needed for Petrojam

Published:Thursday | February 28, 2019 | 12:06 AM

A Commission of enquiry is urgently needed into the Petrojam saga. According to the Commission of Enquiry Act of 1873, which was last amended in 1978, a commission allows for a full, faithful and impartial enquiry into a matter of grave public concern.

There needs to be full disclosure of the management and operations of Petrojam. Jamaica is getting information in bits and pieces, or little by little, related to how much was the settlement payout to a former human resource manager; what is the value of Petrojam; how is it we are losing $15b worth of oil.

We need an impartial report because the Government is trying for damage control while the Opposition wants to maximise the fallout. Furthermore, it could even be that Government and Opposition do some horse trading if serious breaches are found across administrations. Therefore, an independent investigation is needed.

A faithful and accurate account of what is happening at Petrojam is necessary. The commission has legal powers similar to a Supreme Court to subpoena witnesses and documents.

It also seems that mismanagement, incompetency, nepotism and corruption are chronic, endemic and pervasive in the organisation. Everybody agrees that the non-disclosure agreement was a bad idea. Who were the persons who signed off on it? Persons have been focusing on the package of Yolande Ramharrack, but more focus should be on those who gave it to her. Who does not know that laying 19 disciplinary charges is a bottleneck? All that should have been done was to select one or two worse charges. Who decided not to go to court when in a position of strength? Who came up with the cost benefit analysis? The late Ezroy Millwood, transport mogul, won a court case against the Government after going through many layers of the judiciary and he died before getting the money due to him.

Disciplinary matters

Did you ever hear a manager say that it was uncomfortable for the management to discuss disciplinary matters and then have to work with the employee and hence a hasty settlement? It is the employee who should have been uncomfortable. Obviously, the employee is made of sterner stuff than the management.

A commission of enquiry has helped the general public, according to the UWI-based research think tank, CAPRI. There was a commission of enquiry after the 1865 protests, led by Paul Bogle, which led to a more responsible and responsive government and the disestablishment of the State Church. In 1943, there was the Kandel Enquiry which marked the beginning of the transformation of high education. There have been commissions on crime, violence and political tribalism, such as the Barnett Commission (1976); Fraser Commission (1981); and the Wolfe Report (1993); and recently, we have had the Manatt and Tivoli commissions, which all provided useful information.

However, there has never been a commission to examine corruption, although Metry Seaga, president of the Jamaica Manufacturers and Exporters’ Association, said it is a multibillion-dollar cost to the country, and president of the Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica, Howard Mitchell, calls for imprisonment for those who cannot account for their wealth.

In Haiti, there are protests and calls for the prime minister to step down, due to allegations of corruption associated with the PetroCaribe deal. Let us avoid protests and violence and instead allow the governor general to establish a commission of enquiry and ascertain the causes of corruption, changes in the pattern of corruption and why corruption is escalating.

There are credible stories from politicians, former employees, informed persons about corruption at Petrojam to warrant an enquiry into this public body. This is of national interest and for rule of law, public order and public welfare.

Rev Devon Dick is pastor of the Boulevard Baptist Church in St Andrew. He is author of ‘The Cross and the Machete’, and ‘Rebellion to Riot’. Send feedback to columns@ gleanerjm.com.