Editorial | Time to set things straight at Petrojam
Petrojam appears to have thrown away the rule book and decided to operate like a rogue public entity. This is one of the conclusions one may arrive at even from a cursory reading of the Petroleum Corporation of Jamaica investigation carried out by the Integrity Commission.
From its hiring practices to its overseas travel patterns and charitable donations, the company totally disregarded the overarching governance framework set out for public-sector bodies by the Ministry of Finance and the Public Service.
Public companies are meant to operate in a manner to ensure sustainable economic and social benefits to the country as per the Public Bodies Management and Accountability Act. The litany of transgressions uncovered by the Integrity Commission confirms that the board, the former minister, and the accounting officers failed to carry out their jobs, never adhering to the checks and balances required for efficient and effective management.
Take the board chairman, Dr Perceval Bahado-Singh, who lives in the United States. He brought “no specialised skills” to the board, says the report, yet it was determined that he was worth the cost incurred to pay airfare, provide accommodation, and facilitate car rental and a daily allowance to attend board meetings.
According to the records, Dr Bahado-Singh had an avid taste for travel, and he travelled in style. So he signed up to attend several conferences. These were not justified on the grounds of the benefit that would flow to Petrojam. In contravention of government rules, he was allowed to make his own travel arrangements, and even when he failed to attend conferences, he was duly reimbursed. He eventually returned the money several months after the issue became public.
Prime Minister Andrew Holness was seen waffling on television as he struggled to explain why, in the face of the damning evidence of mismanagement, recklessness, and cronyism presented in the report, he would continue to embrace Andrew Wheatley as a potential candidate in the next general election and Cabinet colleague. Is this an example of blind loyalty? Disappointingly, Mr Holness missed the opportunity to say what he really stands for.
As we read about these scandals with more regularity, we sense that the public is getting weary, and wary, of its political leaders. These occurrences contribute to the international view that Jamaica is a country where corruption is booming, as evidenced by the upward movement of the country in the annual Corruption Index.
We do not submit to the view that suitably qualified persons should be excluded from making a contribution to national life. However, politicians and public executives should disclose their relationship with potential hires, and the process should be transparent. In these circumstances, the question to be answered is whether this relationship presents an unacceptable risk of undue influence.
As we approach another election season, Mr Holness, smart politician that he is, should understand that the time of reckoning is here. He needs to do a deep analysis of his Government to identify the instances where personal interests are inconsistent with the national interest. He needs to clean house if he wants to demonstrate to the electorate that he is really serious about elevating the quality of public service beyond levels of reproach.
Make no mistake: Petrojam didn’t become rotten overnight. This company has been dogged by allegations of corruption and stinging criticism of the way it has operated. Its poor reputation seems to have simply blossomed under the current administration.
For the struggling transport operator who must dig deeper week after week to put petrol into his vehicle, it must be very painful to hear the way in which Petrojam has dished out money to many causes without so much as a backward glance to ensure that the money is used for its intended purpose.
The time of reckoning is now. We look forward to seeing what the Petrojam report will become in the prime minister’s hands.