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PNP: Cooperation could cease - Opposition demands firing of Wheatley or else ...

Published:Monday | July 9, 2018 | 12:00 AMEdmond Campbell/ Senior Staff Reporter
Dr Peter Phillips (right), leader of the opposition and PNP president, answers questions from journalists during a press conference held at PNP headquarters on Old Hope Road in St Andrew yesterday. Seated beside him is Julian Robinson, PNP general secretary.

Leader of the Opposition Dr Peter Phillips has signalled the likely withdrawal of bipartisan support for political, legislative and governance issues if Prime Minister Andrew Holness fails to relieve Science and Technology Minister Andrew Wheatley of all his Cabinet responsibilities over the Petrojam scandal.

Phillips, the president of the People's National Party (PNP), sounded the warning to the Holness Government yesterday during a press conference held at the PNP's Old Hope Road headquarters in St Andrew. He declared that the failure of the prime minister to act decisively and send Wheatley packing "will force the Opposition to review cooperation it presently extends to the Government".

The opposition leader charged that by failing to hold Wheatley accountable for the alleged corruption, nepotism and cronyism uncovered at Petrojam, the prime minister had failed to act in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution and, as such, has brought his office into disrepute.

"By failing to hold Minister Wheatley accountable, the prime minister is also creating a crisis of governance and normalising the corruption that is becoming rampant in various departments of government," Phillips added.

In a quick response, director of communications in the Office of the Prime Minister, Robert Morgan, cautioned the Opposition against such a move, noting that it would not be in the best interest of the country.

"If the Opposition wishes to abandon that [bipartisan support] because in their view a minister accused, not of corruption, but for not providing oversight to an entity; if they want to sacrifice the entire country for their political interest, then that is a question that they will have to answer themselves," Morgan said in a Gleaner interview yesterday.

He made it clear that the Government stood willing to have consultations with the Opposition on "issues of crime and governance in order to transform the country".

Quizzed about specific action, Phillips said that the Opposition could not rule out withdrawing from the Vale Royal talks that resumed in April this year after a long period of inactivity.

Both the governing Jamaica Labour Party and the PNP restarted bipartisan dialogue on critical national issues such as national security, electoral reverification and chairmanship of sessional select committees of Parliament. Vale Royal talks were initiated by former prime minister P.J. Patterson.

Holness had announced earlier this year that the Vale Royal talks would also focus on dismantling of political garrisons in Jamaica.

Phillips said that the prime minister's decision to relieve Wheatley of the energy portfolio while leaving him with Cabinet responsibility for the other areas of the ministry raises more questions than answers.

The opposition leader said the Constitution requires the head of Government to hold ministers accountable, not only for policy but for the "general direction and control ... ".

Commenting on Ministry Paper 19/2000, which addresses the code of conduct of ministers, Phillips said the document made it clear that "holders of public office are accountable for their decisions and actions to the public and must submit themselves to whatever scrutiny is appropriate to their office".

But Morgan said the prime minister took definitive action by taking the portfolio of energy from Wheatley.

He said the board of Petrojam had resigned in the wake of the developments at Petrojam. "That is accountability and that is action, even before we have found any objective finding from the auditor general or any of the agencies," Morgan insisted.

According to Morgan, to date, there were no accusations of Wheatley personally benefiting from any alleged issues.