Tue | Feb 18, 2020

Damage control - Holness reshapes team in attempt to rise from scandals

Published:Thursday | February 14, 2019 | 12:25 AM
Prime Minister Andrew Holness waves a document during a sitting of the House of Representatives on Tuesday, when details of the separation package for former Petrojam HR manager Yolande Ramharrack were revealed.

While Prime Minister Andrew Holness yesterday announced changes to his team as the administration tries to battle the flames of the Petrojam scandal, one outspoken critic says that it will take an ocean to wash away the political mud.

“The prime minister will have to take responsibility for all that happened at Petrojam under his watch, and that is still outstanding,” attorney-at-law Dr Paul Ashley told The Gleaner yesterday. “He will have to answer one way or the other.”

Jamaica House yesterday went into full damage-control mode, announcing the promotion of Fayval Williams as the new minister of energy, science and technology, replacing Prime Minister Andrew Holness as minister.

Holness had taken the reins of the ministry following a wave of criticisms that hit the administration after a number of scandals rocked the state-run oil refinery.

The former minister, Andrew Wheatley, was among the casualties last year in the wake of a damning report on the entity by the Auditor General’s Department, which found several “explicit acts of nepotism” and deficiencies in human-resource recruitment and management practices. The auditor general also raised the red flag over high levels of unaccountable oil losses, management’s override of the procurement guidelines, and inadequate oversight and monitoring of Petrojam operations, among other issues.

Holness, however, is insisting that since he took over, policy, governance, and administrative advances have been made.

“While there is still much more work to be done to restore the public trust and confidence in Petrojam and the portfolio, generally, I believe we have come a far way. I am, therefore, confident that with the changes set in motion, I can now refocus my attention and effort on other pressing areas of the Government, particularly crime, ease of doing business, and completing the extensive infrastructure programme undertaken,” Holness said in the statement.

Yesterday’s announcement comes on the back of mounting criticism over the Government’s handling of the multimillion-dollar hush money payout to Yolande Ramharrack, the former unqualified human resources manager who walked with a non-disclosure agreement for her tumultuous time at Petrojam. The OPM’s explanation for the changes read, inter alia, that the reassignment of Williams to the energy portfolio was a step to secure the viability and value of Petrojam.

The Office of the Prime Minister(OPM) also announced the reassignment of state ministers Floyd Green, who has been moved to the Ministry of Industry, Commerce and Agriculture with line minister Audley Shaw; and Allando Terrelonge, who has replaced Green at the Ministry of Education, Youth and Information.

Permanent Secretary Audrey Sewell will also take on additional responsibility as accounting officer at the OPM even as she oversees the Ministry of Economic Growth and Job Creation. Sewell will again have supervisory responsibility for nearly 40 agencies under both ministries.

Permanent Secretary Carol Palmer has been moved to the Ministry of Science, Energy and Technology from the Ministry of Justice, and Sancia Bennett Templer who has been shifted from the OPM to replace Palmer less than a year after she was moved from the Ministry of Health.

With the new changes come the reconstitution of the boards where necessary, the OPM said. The board of National Energy Solution Limited, which was also rocked by scandal, has been instructed to begin the process of closing down.