Saturday 22 September, 2018

Fire Wheatley or be seen as weak, says Senator Brown to Prime Minister

Opposition Senator Lambert Brown used the floor of the Senate on Friday to call for Prime Minister Andrew Holness to fire the embattled Energy Minister Dr Andrew Wheatley, or risk being seen as weak by the Jamaican people.

“It is time for the Prime Minister to fire Andrew Wheatley for his loss of public trust because that’s what’s needed because otherwise the Prime Minister will be seen to be living in a different skin from the one he was in, in 2013,” said  Senator Brown.

Brown made the call while making his contribution to the debate on a resolution to extend the State of Emergency in the St Catherine North police division by three months.

In tongue-in-cheek fashion, Brown told Government senators that what was needed was a “state of emergency against public corruption.”

Speaking specifically to the unfolding corruption scandal at the state-owned oil refinery, Petrojam, over which Wheatley has portfolio responsibility, Brown argued that “public corruption aids crime and undermines the safety and security of our people.” He also implored Government senators to lift their integrity flag high and to “not support the kind of things taking place at that agency.”

Senator Brown also referred to what he described as the $66 million in “over spend” on a perimeter wall for the refinery. He argued that it was a fence and not a wall since you can “see through it.” He said the $66 million could have been used to purchase 30 new cars for the police force. 

The wall was initially estimated to cost $29.7 million by the state-run National Works Agency but was eventually built at a final cost of $96.8 million.

That is just one of several instances of questionable spending at the state-run entity that has led to allegations of corruption and cronyism. It is also alleged that there have been numerous breaches of Government procurement guidelines.

“As corrosive as crime is, so too is corruption. And I’m seeing in this Government, the most corrupt Government in the history of the country. That’s what I’m seeing,” Brown stated while accusing the Administration of condoning corruption at the highest levels

Brown also made allegations of corruption at Nutrition Products Limited but this was dismissed by Education Minister, Senator Ruel Reid who accused him of misleading the Senate.

Senator Brown referenced the 2013 incident when, as Opposition Leader, Holness piled pressure on then Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller to fire junior minister Richard Azan over the shop building and rental saga in Spalding, Clarendon. Azan eventually resigned his position after Holness had threatened to withdraw the support of the Opposition both inside and outside the parliament.

Despite Government Senator Pearnel Charles Jr rising on a point of order and accusing Brown of straying from the topic that was being debated, Brown would not be muzzled.

Before casting his vote in support of the resolution to extend the state of emergency, which Brown noted was moved by Holness in the House of Representatives on Tuesday, he said: “I want to know that my Prime Minister who ask me to support this, is one who believes that if a member of his Cabinet breaches the public trust and faith …he’s going to dither, he’s going to procrastinate and he’s going to try and find ways not to deal with the corruption.."