Sat | Nov 17, 2018

PM Holness addresses Petrojam saga

Published:Wednesday | June 27, 2018 | 12:12 PMBrian Walker
Prime Minister Andrew Holness - File photo

Prime Minister Andrew Holness last night broke his silence on the scandal at the state-owned oil refinery Petrojam indicating that he is allowing the relevant agencies to investigate.

The Integrity Commission, the Auditor General's Department and Major Organised Crime and Anti-Corruption Agency are conducting probes into allegations of corruption, financial mismanagement, and nepotism at the agency.

Holness told the House that it is not within his purview to issue any directives to the agencies on how they should do their work.

“…by the way it (the Integrity Commission) is an independent commission you know, in the truest sense … I have been very careful not to say I am going to try to direct an independent commission to go and do an investigation," Holness said.

He added, “…It is worth noting Mr Speaker, that in the present matter of Petrojam that the (Integrity) Commission has acted. A part of the campaign against corruption is not so much to be talking about it, but governments must genuinely not stand in the way of the independent authorities to investigate and find it out”.

The parliamentary Opposition and private sector groups have called for action to be taken to investigate allegations at the oil refinery.

Holness remarked, “Mr Speaker, the only way that we can address much of what is in the public domain is if the Government submits itself to the various independent investigative authorities and let the chips fall where they may”.

Opposition Spokesman on Industry Peter Bunting expressed displeasure during the sitting because the Energy Minister Dr Andrew Wheatley did not show up to respond to questions about Petrojam that were tabled last month.

Here is Prime Minister Andrew Holness' Full Statement on Petrojam

Cabinet last evening (Monday, June 25) received a preliminary report on the operations of Petrojam, and on specific allegations in the public domain.

The meeting, which ended at approximately 11:00 pm, gave the Cabinet the opportunity to question the General Manager and management team of Petrojam as well as officials of the Ministry of Science, Energy, and Technology.

Pursuant to the exhaustive discussions surrounding the report the Cabinet gained a better understanding of the issues and problems at Petrojam and has identified key areas of weaknesses in the governance of Petrojam. The weaknesses identified appear to be longstanding and systemic in nature and have impacted the governance, transparency and efficient running of the entity.

Some of the issues raised in the discussion highlighted governance and management practices that require a policy response that will improve governance not only at Petrojam but also across all public bodies.

As Prime Minister, I have tasked the Cabinet Secretary to compile the relevant legislation, regulations and policy guidelines relevant to the areas of weaknesses identified in order to close the existing gaps.

There were some issues reported on that needed further clarity to better inform Cabinet’s decisions. Therefore, the Cabinet will task the Public Accountability Inspectorate to urgently gather further information on matters related to the direct expenditure of public funds, including but not limited to donations, and the construction of a wall.

The Cabinet notes the call from various stakeholders for a forensic audit into the operations at Petrojam. 

The Cabinet shares the view that a detailed investigation into the management and governance of Petrojam is necessary and recalls that in 2010, the Auditor General reviewed a special forensic audit done by Papineau Consulting in 2009.  The Auditor General presented its findings to Parliament on June 17, 2010.

The Cabinet is fully aware that the Auditor General is presently conducting an investigation into the operations of Petrojam. Other independent investigative bodies may also be conducting their own investigations into the operations of Petrojam and into allegations in the public domain.

The Cabinet has no control over the pace of these independent investigations or when the findings will be available. However, in the interim, Cabinet plans to take certain policy actions to ensure that Petrojam functions with probity, transparency, and accountability.

Based on the results of the meeting, Cabinet will prepare policy directions for the new Chairman and Board members. An immediate action thereafter will be the convening of the full Board (Jamaican and Venezuelan representatives) to address the identified weaknesses in the governance and management of the entity and ensure that government policy and systems of accountability are implemented.

The Cabinet is committed to ensuring transparency and forthrightness in addressing the challenges at Petrojam. The Cabinet will, therefore, share the report it received and its observation with the Auditor General and any other investigative body.

The Government of Jamaica hears and understands the concerns expressed in the public domain.  The Government is sensitive to the impact that allegations of corruption have on public confidence as well as on the value, effectiveness, and efficiency of Petrojam as a public entity.

The Government appreciates that in this age of social media and unfiltered information, the public needs to be constantly informed and assured of accurate information.  The Government is therefore even more constrained to ensure that it does its due diligence.

The Office of the Cabinet is therefore now in the process of finalising documentation of the decisions taken and in short order, I will inform the country of the specific actions agreed by Cabinet.

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