Tue | Apr 7, 2020

No cover-up! - Holness says his Gov’t has never swept acts of corruption under the carpet

Published:Friday | February 28, 2020 | 12:28 AMEdmond Campbell/Senior Staff Reporter

Prime Minister Andrew Holness makes a point during a Gleaner interview at Jamaica House on Tuesday. Gladstone Taylor
Prime Minister Andrew Holness makes a point during a Gleaner interview at Jamaica House on Tuesday. Gladstone Taylor

Prime Minister Andrew Holness has indicated that his Government has never sought to cover up any of the seismic scandals that has rocked his administration during its four years in office to date.

“The Government has always accepted that there have been issues which have raised concern about corruption, and it is not something that the Government can deny. It is in the Government’s interest to accept these criticisms and to work harder to correct them,” Holness told The Gleaner in an exclusive interview at Jamaica House on Tuesday.

“What I believe that the public has seen and would generally agree is that the Government has not sought to cover up, hide, or sweep under the carpet these issues. We have confronted them, and we have addressed them,” the prime minister declared.

The spotlight centred on corruption in late December 2018 when a damning report from the Auditor General’s Department detailed, among other things, “explicit acts of nepotism”, high levels of accountable and unaccountable oil losses; management’s override of the procurement guidelines at Petrojam, the state-owned oil refinery.

POLITICAL CASUALTY

The Petrojam saga triggered political casualty with then portfolio minister Andrew Wheatley stepping down. Senior management and board members also resigned.

Ruel Reid, the former minister of education, became the next high-profile casualty when he quit suddenly in March 2019, after which he was arrested and charged for alleged acts of corruption months later.

Reid’s wife, Sharen, and their daughter, Sharelle, along with president of the Caribbean Maritime University (CMU), Fritz Pinnock, and Brown’s Town division Councillor Kim Brown Lawrence were also charged in connection with a major fraud and corruption probe involving transactions at the CMU.

After taking charge of the education portfolio and asking Karl Samuda to provide oversight, Holness faced tough questions from the parliamentary Opposition in the wake of an auditor general’s report detailing a trail of questionable spending, flagrant human-resource breaches, and other violations of government protocol at the university.

Holness suggested that the Government did not sit on its hands after breaches of government guidelines and procedures were unveiled by the auditor general.

“What is within our powers to do, we have sought to discover further what the issues are. We have investigated where we have the powers to investigate, and we have held to account, ultimately, the people who have authority,” he pointed out.

In a direct swipe at the former People’s National Party administration, Holness said: “I think if you were to compare how this Government has addressed the issues of corruption ... – because this Government is not more corrupt than any other government – if you were to look at the contractor general’s reports on the previous Government, there would be far more issues that were raised for which there was no action.”

The prime minister said that under his administration, the investigative process has been strengthened, noting that “many of these issues and allegations (of corruption) are currently being investigated, and I think that we have placed the resources with the investigative agencies to be able to carry out their investigations and, ultimately, prosecution”.

edmond.campbell@gleanerjm.com