Editorial | Lionel Myrie should go; Creary, too
Up to yesterday, Lionel Myrie was still listed on the website of the Petroleum Corporation of Jamaica (PCJ) as one of its directors.
We’d expected that by now, he’d have resigned, and if he hadn’t, that he would have been fired by the Energy Minister Fayval Williams. And if Mrs Williams didn’t act, our expectation was that Prime Minister Andrew Holness would have intervened to ensure Mr Myrie’s removal as he ought to have done during the eight months he assumed direct responsibility for the energy portfolio. In that regard, it is the second time that Prime Minister Holness has dropped the ball on this aspect of the Petrojam corruption scandal.
The PCJ is a statutory body through which the Government consolidates its holdings in the energy sector and broadly executes its policies thereof. Petrojam is the oil refinery where a review by the auditor general last year confirmed wide-scale cronyism, nepotism, frivolous spending of taxpayers’ money, as well as other acts that have drawn allegations of misfeasance, and, possibly, public corruption.
One of the issues highlighted by the auditor general was the case of Petrojam’s donation of more than J$9 million to a citizens’ association in 2017. In the first instance, a group that referred to itself as ‘Citizens’ Association #1’ requested and was approved for a donation to expand its community centre. A cheque was prepared for the amount, made payable to the contractor. In short order, that cheque was cancelled, ostensibly because the association had withdrawn its request.
In the meantime, another organisation, ‘Citizens’ Association #2’, requested from Petrojam a donation of the same amount for the renovation of its community centre, for which the refinery prepared a cheque payable directly to the ‘Citizens’ Association #2’, rather than, as in the first instance, to a contractor.
Of critical importance is this statement by the auditor general, Pamela Monroe Ellis: “Of note, we observed that by way of email dated July 5, 2017, a board member of PCJ submitted to Petrojam’s general manager the letter from Citizens’ Association #1, cancelling its request, and the new request from Citizens’ Association #2.”
The auditor general, it ought to be noted, found no citizens’ associations registered in the names of those to whom Petrojam gave, or was prepared to make, donations. Further, it emerged at a hearing this week of Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee that the two associations referred to were organisations in the constituency of former Energy Minister Andrew Wheatley, who lost his job over allegations of corruption at agencies within his portfolio.
NOW HAS A FACE
The more critical revelation, however, was that the PCJ board member to whom Mrs Monroe Ellis referred was Mr Myrie, who also happens to be a former general secretary of the G2K, a group affiliated to the governing Jamaica Labour Party (JLP).
This is particularly notable in the context of the auditor general’s concern for the weak oversight PCJ, and, by extension, its governors, provided its Petrojam subsidiary. But the commingling, overreach, and exercise of undue influence for the gain of connected parties now has a face in Lionel Myrie.
Prime Minister Holness, from the time the auditor general issued her report, and during his long oversight of the energy portfolio, ought to have known who was behind that mask of those citizens’ association donations.
It is untidy, if not reckless, that Mr Myrie should continue as a governor of the PCJ with oversight of Petrojam when a transaction to which he was party is the subject of a criminal investigation and exacerbated by the revelation of the poor job the PCJ board did in relation to Petrojam.
It made sense that the Petrojam board resigned last year. That didn’t go far enough. The PCJ board should have followed, especially governors who straddled both entities, in which case, Richard Creary oughtn’t to linger.