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WIKILEAKS - Paulwell's nine lives

Published:Sunday | June 5, 2011 | 12:00 AM
Former Government minister Phillip Paulwell

... US Embassy dubs Phillip a meddling minister but he scoffs at the claim

Arthur Hall, Senior Staff Reporter

Former Government minister Phillip Paulwell has received a failing grade from officials of the United States Embassy in Kingston who described him as a "conflicted and meddling" minister.

But Paulwell, who received top marks locally for his liberalisation of the telecommunications sector, told The Sunday Gleaner that the grading was unfair and did not reflect the work he did while in charge of the Ministry of Industry, Technology, Energy and Commerce.

He argued that what the Americans classified as meddling was him taking a hands-on approach to his ministry.

"The successes of my ministry speak for themselves and justify my continued role in government as an innovator and somebody who was prepared to take risks to better the lives of every Jamaican," Paulwell told The Sunday Gleaner.

Paulwell was responding to a diplomatic cable dispatched from Kingston in July 2007 titled 'Jamaica: Universal Access Fund - A meddling minister and issues of conflict'.

The cable details the 2006-2007 controversy surrounding the management of  the Universal Access Fund and the sale of a fourth cellular licence to a company to which one of Paulwell's advisers was said to have been connected.

The cable listed a number of incidents involving Paulwell in his ministerial capacity as it sought to justify the embassy officials' classification of him.

"Only recently, Jamaica's Supreme Court handed down a ruling stating that the minister had overstepped his bounds when he issued a ministerial order declaring that the telecoms regulator, the Office of Utilities Regulation, had no power to regulate rates," the cable noted.

"The court also ruled against him in his bid to get oil-marketing companies to abide by the Weights and Measures Act," said the cable as it alleged that Paulwell had figured in other allegations, including the failed telecommunications company NETSERV.

"Despite Paulwell's seeming propensity to self-destruct and the mounting cost of his mistakes, he has been able to weather the storm, remaining intact in his 'super' ministerial roles. His knack for survival appears to lie in his ability to forge loyal relationships with his superiors," the cable said.

Value on loyalty

It stated that the People's National Party (PNP) was known to place a high value on loyalty, "which could explain why the party manages internal conflicts so expertly," the cable said as it noted that former Prime Minister P.J. Patterson had once excused Paulwell by declaring his actions "youthful exuberance".

The cable further noted that Paulwell had backed Portia Simpson Miller in her bid to lead the PNP and argued that there was little chance of him being axed from her Cabinet unless some great transgression occurred.

"Reports suggest that PNP insiders not allied to Simpson Miller are applying pressure internally and have even, uncharacteristically, been feeding the media information on the issues," said the cable.

"Nevertheless, Paulwell looks likely to live out another of his proverbial nine lives, continuing as a major player in the PNP's push for a fifth consecutive term," added the cable.

But Paulwell said his record as a minister could stand scrutiny as he boasts a long list of accomplishments, even though there were some failures.

"As a minister, I had to be hands-on because I find that in government, it is difficult to get things done without a minister pushing for these things to be done," Paulwell said.

"I can say that in relation to my performance as a minister, I achieved significant success," Paulwell added as he pointed to a long list of achievements.

Pioneering work

Paulwell pointed to his work in liberalising the telecommunications industry, "which was a model used by the entire region and the world telecommunications union because it was the first time a monopoly provider relinquished its monopoly without the State paying compensation".

He pointed to Honk Kong where Cable and Wireless was paid billions of dollars for giving up its monopoly.

The outspoken former minister also pointed to the establishment of the Universal Access Fund, the billions of dollars which went into government coffers through the sale of cellular licences, the establishment of the Jamaica Intellectual Property Office, and the raft of legislation passed on his watch among his achievements.

"In all of these risk-taking activities, there are possibilities for things to go wrong, and we did have some failures, but they were due mainly to incorrect implementation rather than any skullduggery or improper practices," Paulwell said.

He argued: "In implementing these revolutionary changes, it is impossible for you to come away unscathed or not having made mistakes and errors, but the overwhelming advantages justify those risks that I took."