Tuesday 23 July, 2019

Bunting walks out of committee meeting over Gov’t members’ stance

Peter Bunting

Peter Bunting

Opposition Spokesman on Industry, Commerce and Competitiveness, Peter Bunting, on Saturday walked out of a rare Saturday sitting of a joint select committee of Parliament examining the Bill to amend the Bank of Jamaica Act.

Bunting walked out to voice his disapproval of a decision by Government members of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) to block the efforts of Opposition members to examine the damning report of the auditor general into the operations of the state-owned oil refinery, Petrojam.

“When I contrast the demands being made to push through the Bill to Amend the BOJ Act, where there is no crisis, to the deliberate attempts to frustrate the Public Accounts Committee from examining the PetroJam report, which literally screams crisis, then I must conclude that the Government is taking a hypocritical approach to the work of the parliamentary committees,” Bunting said.

He added that while weekend meetings of parliamentary committees have been held in the past, these are usually necessitated by an externally imposed deadline, such as an IMF benchmark. He said there is no obvious urgency in the instant case.

There are mounting calls for persons to be held accountable, including criminally prosecuted, following the report of Auditor General Pamela Monroe-Ellis that was tabled on Tuesday in the House of Representatives. The report examined the operations of the state-run Petroleum Corporation of Jamaica and its subsidiary, Petrojam.

The report painted a picture of reckless spending, including numerous breaches of the Government’s procurement guidelines.

Among these were lavish ‘surprise parties” for then Energy Minister, Andrew Wheatley, and former board Chairman, Dr Perceval Bahado-Singh, which cost millions, including a chocolate covered ‘topsy-turvy’ cake for US$1,000 (J$130,000 then); cases of nepotism involving members of the senior management team; questionable contracts and decisions without board approval which cost tens of millions of dollars without value for money or even proof of work being done; and inefficiencies or lack of oversight which led to the "loss" of over 600,000 barrels of oil costing $5.2 billion dating back to 2013.

Bunting said PAC Chairman, Mark Golding, attempted to set a meeting of the committee to examine the report for next Tuesday, December 11.

However, he said Government members thwarted the request with the next available date given for a PAC meeting being January 29 next year.

Bunting exited the joint select committee meeting stating that: “I will be taking no further part in the meetings of this committee until the PAC is allowed to meet to examine the auditor general’s Petrojam report.”

He added that: “The priority must be to staunch the hemorrhaging of resources at PCJ/PetroJam, and to get to the bottom of the very disturbing issues exposed in the report. The Public Accounts Committee has a duty to immediately examine this report that has automatically been referred to the PAC by virtue of the Standing Orders.”

Get the latest local and international news straight to your mobile phone for free: