Sat | Sep 19, 2020

Conflict of interest twist in Petrojam-Integrity tango? - Refinery director is commissioner at corruption watchdog

Published:Tuesday | August 4, 2020 | 12:26 AMJovan Johnson/Senior Staff Reporter
Integrity commissioner Wayne Powell (right) alongside retired Justice Seymour Panton, chairman of the Integrity Commission.
Integrity commissioner Wayne Powell (right) alongside retired Justice Seymour Panton, chairman of the Integrity Commission.

The Integrity Commission (IC) says Wayne Powell, one of its commissioners who is also a board member of Petrojam, has recused himself from “all” matters relating to the scandal-scarred state-owned oil refinery.

The Integrity Commission is Jamaica’s main anti-corruption watchdog and has been investigating Petrojam for more than two years, and prosecutions could arise from those probes.

The revelation of Powell’s role in both entities has raised questions of a potential conflict of interest, two local transparency campaigners said on Monday in response to queries by The Gleaner.

Governor General Sir Patrick Allen, who is responsible for appointing commissioners based on the IC’s legislation, confirmed that Powell took office on March 27, 2020.

However, King’s House declined to answer whether Sir Patrick was aware that Powell was a Petrojam board member prior to the appointment and, instead, directed queries to the IC.

“As we are unable to provide further information to the rest of your queries, we suggest you contact the Integrity Commission,” read Monday’s emailed response.

But, in a statement Monday night, the IC’s chairman, Justice Seymour Panton, sought to make it clear that “the commission does not appoint commissioners, and has no input in the appointment of a commissioner”.

He said: “The commission’s understanding is that his (Powell) appointment to the Petrojam board was subsequent to the matters that have been reported on by the commission to Parliament.”

“At the first meeting of the commission attended by Commissioner Powell, he disclosed his membership of the Petrojam board and he has recused himself from all matters relating to that entity,” Panton stated.

A document tabled in Parliament in September 2018 confirmed that Cabinet approved Powell’s appointment to the Petrojam board effective June 19 that year with an April 3, 2020, expiration date.

Information on the Cabinet Office’s website, as updated at June 30, 2020, lists Powell as a board member. It was confirmed by Petrojam’s Public Relations Department.

Although noting that Powell joined the Petrojam board after the period covering most of the allegations at Petrojam, civil-society advocate Jeanette Calder said there may be some questions to answer.

“The Government of Jamaica has not left us to guess what it is that a public official should do if he thinks the public ... thinks he or she is in a position where a potential for conflict of interest arises,” said the executive director of the Jamaica Accountability Meter Portal.

“Is there any way in which it could influence or be deemed by the public to influence a matter that is still ongoing in the Integrity Commission?”

The websites for the IC and Petrojam note that Powell is a business, financial, and leadership consultant with a 45-year history in banking and finance locally and internationally.

He spent much of his career with Scotiabank Jamaica, where he retired as executive vice president in charge of the retail bank.

Powell’s initial Petrojam appointment in June 2018 came just months after the Opposition People’s National Party raised concerns about alleged corruption at the Petrojam, which at the time was under the portfolio responsibility of then energy minister, Dr Andrew Wheatley.

Wheatley, and Jamaican members of the board which, at the time, included Venezuelans, resigned clearing the way for new appointments.

On June 30, 2020, two Integrity Commission reports on Petrojam were tabled in Parliament on investigations into allegations of improprieties, irregularities, and corruption at the entity, which is to be absorbed in the energy ministry. The investigations started on June 26, 2018.

The reports, which identified several prima facie criminal and administrative breaches, would have been signed off by the commissioners.

Those two reports have been referred to the director of corruption prosecutions in the Integrity Commission, which has said it has a third investigative report on Petrojam to complete.

The auditor general, who is also a commissioner by law, had published a report on Petrojam in December 2018.

While the period for the audit was not explicit, the auditor general said fieldwork was conducted between June 2018 and September 2018. Powell, by then, was a Petrojam director.

Professor Trevor Munroe said on Monday that Powell has led a distinguished career in banking, but argued that the timing of the appointment to the IC may be problematic.

“If he was a part of the board during that period (auditor general’s investigations), it would be entirely inappropriate for him to be appointed to the Integrity Commission,” said the advocate who heads the lobby National Integrity Action.

Questions were sent late Monday to Powell but were unanswered up to press time.

The IC’s law outlines that the governor general appoints integrity commissioners after consultation with the prime minister and the leader of the Opposition.

Along with Powell and Panton, the other commissioners are Auditor General Pamela Monroe Ellis, whose inclusion is by law; retired Supreme Court justice Lloyd Hibbert; and chartered accountant Eric Crawford.

Commissioners are appointed for a seven-year term with the opportunity of renewal.

jovan.johnson@gleanerjm.com