Tue | Feb 25, 2020

Get the cash - Ashley urges Holness to name beneficiaries, recover millions improperly spent at Petrojam

Published:Monday | December 10, 2018 | 12:00 AMLivern Barrett/Senior Staff Reporter

Prime Minister Andrew Holness should publicly name all the individuals, entities, and consultants that collected millions of dollars "they were not entitled to" from the state-owned oil refinery Petrojam and use all legal and persuasive means to have the funds repaid, one political commentator has suggested.

Further, Paul Ashley believes that those who refuse to repay should be blacklisted from ever being employed in the public sector.

"You can't benefit from corruption and keep on benefiting. Everybody is talking about corruption. I am into naming the beneficiaries," Ashley told The Gleaner yesterday.

He cited, as an example, the finding of the Auditor General's Department (AGD) that an instrument and electrical technician was employed to Petrojam by his sister, the human resource manager, at an annual compensation package of $2.4 million, in breach of company policy.

"The view the prime minister has to take is illicit enrichment or proceeds of crime. The man wasn't entitled to it at all, and she ([HR manager] went against the board of directors, and she went against correct procedures," he argued.

The suggestions come as the nation awaits Holness' response to the damning findings of a comprehensive audit of Petrojam and its parent company, the Petroleum Corporation of Jamaica (PCJ).

The Office of the Prime Minister announced last week that Holness was analysing the report and gave the assurance that there would be "definitive action".

Ashley insisted that as a first step, Holness should ensure that steps are taken to recover all the taxpayer resources that were expended in questionable circumstances. "In your research of all the scandals - Furniture scandal, Shell Waiver scandal - you ever hear of any money pay back?" he questioned.

The well-known political commentator also pointed to the case of the counsellor who was engaged by the HR manager at a rate of $3,000 per hour for 432 hours, which ended up costing Petrojam $1.3 million.

The AGD, in her comprehensive audit of Petrojam, noted that the counsellor and the HR manager signed a job description one month before approval was sought from the general manager.

The audit revealed, too, that all invoices related to the counsellor were approved by the HR manager but only indicated the number of hours he provided counselling each day.

"The counsellor was not required to sign, for example, a register indicating the days and number of hours worked. Therefore, we were unable to reconcile the invoices paid to the actual hours worked," the report stated.

The AGD said that Petrojam did not provide evidence that the counsellor possessed the qualifications outlined in the job description and questioned the need for his services.

"We were not able to determine the basis for employing the service of the counsellor in the context where Petrojam was already utilising the service of a non-profit organisation and the counsellor," the AGD said, noting that the oil refinery paid the non-profit $759,000 over a seven-year period.

Ashley said that Jamaicans should be told who the chaplain was.

"Who is the chaplain, and where is the evidence that the chaplain did any work at all?" he questioned.

He demanded, too, that the country be told who the consultant was that was paid $17.4 million to undertake two assessments of Petrojam's operations.

The report by the AGD said that the state-owned company "did not obtain any value" from the $17-million payout.

"If we are to believe the auditor general that this is the correct situation, then the man didn't do any work. So him shouldn't get any money," he argued.