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Dead end - Myrie fingers late councillor as man behind Petrojam sponsorship request

Published:Wednesday | May 15, 2019 | 12:00 AMLivern Barrett/Senior Parliamentary Reporter
Petroleum Corporation of Jamaica director Lionel Myrie answers questions at a Public Accounts Committee meeting in Parliament yesterday about his role in controversial sponsorship requests and donations at Petrojam.
Councillor Owen Palmer

Petroleum Corporation of Jamaica (PCJ) director Lionel Myrie has pointed the finger at late Councillor Owen Palmer as the person who asked him to forward two requests for donations totalling just over $19 million to the state-owned oil refinery Petrojam on behalf of two citizens’ groups in St Catherine.

Palmer died in a motor vehicle crash on March 4 last year.

Myrie, who faced a grilling by opposition members of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) of Parliament yesterday, steered clear of questions about whether he was acting in his capacity as a PCJ director when he emailed the requests to then Petrojam General Manager Floyd Grindley or whether he was acting as an assistant to then Energy Minister Dr Andrew Wheatley.

The PCJ is the parent company of the state-owned oil refinery Petrojam.

“In relation to the role I played in the matter you are investigating, I was simply a courier that was asked to pass on information, which I did. At this point, unfortunately, I can be of no further assistance as a result of the ongoing investigation,” he said, reading from a prepared statement.

Last month, permanent secretary in the energy ministry, Carol Palmer, told the PAC that Myrie informed her during a meeting at her office that the documentation came to him in his capacity as a “personal assistant” to Wheatley.

But responding to questions from opposition member of the PAC Fitz Jackson, Myrie had a different story.

“Member, I wasn’t acting in any capacity. I was simply a courier. I just happened to know the gentleman and he asked me to pass it on. It’s as simple as that,” he replied.

Palmer, who was at yesterday’s PAC meeting, was clearly not amused, declaring, “I do feel that my integrity is being impugned.”

“I did have a conversation with Mr Myrie at the request of the honourable minister, where he (Myrie) asked to speak with me. I conveyed to this committee, when I was asked, what I was told in that conversation,” Palmer insisted.

“It appears that that is now in question. I am prepared to share with this committee the records of the Ministry of Science, Energy and Technology in this particular matter of engagement,” she indicated.

At first, Myrie told the committee that the “gentleman” who asked him to pass on the request to Grindley was the “constituency development manager”.

“What’s the name of the constituency development manager,” Golding questioned.

“He was the councillor then,” Myrie replied.

“Does he have a name?” Golding pressed.

“Councillor Palmer,” he replied.

One of the donations came to light yesterday after Petrojam acknowledged, in documents submitted to the PAC, that one of the requests Myrie forwarded to Grindley was for a $10-million sponsorship to the Homestead Citizens for Action Benevolent Society.

Incumbent Petrojam boss Winston Watson confirmed that the donation was for the construction of two classroom blocks at the Homestead Primary School and confirmed that the funds were paid directly to the institution.

A performance audit conducted by the Auditor General’s Department found that the other donation of $9 million was paid to the Sydenham Citizens’ Association after Myrie forwarded their request to Grindley via email.

This donation is the subject of an investigation by the Major Organised Crime and Anti-Corruption Agency.