Tue | Feb 25, 2020

Why’s she special? - Holness faces scathing criticisms over separation payment to former Petrojam HR manager

Published:Wednesday | February 6, 2019 | 7:12 AM
Prime Minister Andrew Holness

Opposition lawmakers yesterday pressed Prime Minister Andrew Holness in Parliament to find out what was so special about Yolande Ramharrack, the last domino to fall in a string of resignations at the corruption-plagued Petrojam.

Ramharrack, who was employed as human resource manager by Petrojam without the required educational qualifications, was facing a range of serious disciplinary charges when she struck a multimillion-dollar separation with the state-owned oil refinery that included a non-disclosure agreement (NDA).

By contrast, Holness confirmed that former Petrojam boss Floyd Grindley also received a multimillion-dollar separation payout, but his did not include an NDA.

The prime minister infuriated opposition members of parliament (MPs) when he added that the Ramharrack NDA barred him from publicly discussing details about the settlement, as well as the disciplinary charges that were laid against her.

He acknowledged, however, that the disciplinary charges covered “negligence of duty, things to do with breach of hiring policy, compliance with the policies of the company in procurement [and] not meeting certain corporate social responsibilities”.

But dismissing Ramharrack, the prime minister said, was not so easy. This triggered stinging criticisms from the parliamentary Opposition.

“On the matter of summary dismissal, that in itself, as the attorneys have advised, would not necessarily mean that Petrojam would not be exposed to legal action,” said Holness.

That answer did not sit well with opposition MP Julian Robinson, who wanted to know why the two former Petrojam executives were treated differently.

“Why was there a non-disclosure agreement with this particular manager for HRD if the general manager has none, and, as far as you know, no other manager in the entity has one?” Robinson asked.

“What is so special about this person (Ramharrack)? Someone who came in without qualification, salary bump up in two months, hire her brother, breach all kinds a things, as laid out here [in the special performance audit] and she is given a golden handshake to leave is scandalous under your watch?” he continued.

“This is not former [Energy] Minister [Andrew] Wheatley. This is you,” he said, singling out Holness, who took over the energy portfolio from Wheatley last July after a number of irregularities were discovered at Petrojam. Ramharrack resigned on November 22.


A case study in nepotism

The exchanges in the House came hours after permanent secretary in the Office of the Prime Minister, Sancia Bennett Templer, and acting general manager of Petrojam, Winston Watson, revealed that Ramharrack was given a gross payout of $9.2 million. Grindley’s gross payment was $7.2 million.

After statutory and other deductions, Ramharrack walked away with $4.1 million, while Grindley received $3.8 million, Bennett Templer and Watson told the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) of Parliament yesterday.

The former human resource manager did not have a master’s degree at the time she was employed at an annual salary of $10.5 million. Two months later, her salary jumped to $12.9 million a year.

Opposition PAC member Peter Bunting said this meant that in 19 months, Ramharrack was paid close to $32 million by the state-owned refinery.

“This is a case study in nepotism, cronyism, corruption and fraud,” Bunting lamented.

But amid the criticisms in the House of Representatives, Holness conceded that no NDA should have been attached to the agreement reached with Ramharrack, even while defending the pact.

He said the former Petrojam board of directors conducted a cost-benefit analysis, which showed that “it would have been far more expensive if, as was being suggested, you could just summarily terminate” the former human resource manager.

The settlement agreement meant the charges against Ramharrack were “disposed of”, Holness said.