Wednesday 23 October, 2019

JCC calls for new public bodies’ framework amid Petrojam scandal

The Jamaica Chamber of Commerce (JCC) has called for a Corporate Governance Framework for Public Bodies to be embodied in law with the appropriate sanctions for breach, following damning reports of misused public funds and nepotism at the Government-owned Petrojam Corporation of Jamaica (PCJ).

JCC in a statement to the public yesterday, further suggested that the Government, in reprimanding the people responsible for the “flagrant mis-use of public funds”, to never again be deemed fit to take up any future office where they will have similar responsibility for the expenditure of public funds.

The chamber in reviewing of Aspects of PCJ and a Comprehensive Audit of Petrojam Limited submitted by the Auditor General’s Department on Tuesday December 4, described the report as a “disquieting reading”.

“While public disclosures in Parliament had already alerted the nation to incidents of alleged nepotism, improper HR practices, and procurement standards violations among other things, this clinically detailed report would seem to indicate that the problem with Petrojam goes far beyond the actions of a few individuals but represents massive systemic failures both within the institution itself and in those organs of the state with oversight responsibilities,” the JCC said.

It added that more worrying, is the fact that there are no shortages of rules and guidelines that mandate how certain procedures are to be carried out.

The chamber argued that the audit report would seem to suggest that even where clear directives exist on paper, a single entity, its officers and board – and those with oversight responsibility – can with impunity, pick and choose which directives it will observe and which it will disregard.

“We need to ask ourselves whether Petrojam is merely an outlier or whether such a situation exists in other public bodies…The AGD report painstakingly indexes the occasions where the stipulations of the GOJ’s Accountability Framework and the Public Bodies Management & Accountability (PBMA) Act - or even the organization’s own policies - have been ignored or bypassed without any evident sanctions over the course of years and over different political administrations,” JCC said in a press release.

“In this respect, we are supportive of the GOJ’s intent to define and implement Policy Guidelines for the Nomination, Selection and Appointment of the Boards of Public Bodies that it signalled earlier this year, as good governance starts at the top of the organization with the Board having the responsibility to set the tone by strong ethical conduct and holding to account any within the organization who act in a corrupt or unethical manner,” the statement from the chamber continued.

The JCC noted that a fundamental principle of good governance is that there must be an approved budget that management is held accountable to deliver. It said in the case of Petrojam, there was an abject failure on the part of both the ministry and the Board to exercise oversight and to hold management accountable for the flagrant over-expenditure as well as the severe under-performance on the revenue side.

“The accountability mechanisms at the level of the institution must be such that individuals know that the misuse and wanton waste of public resources are sanctionable offences. The Corporate Governance Framework for Public Bodies and the PBMA Act also clearly identify the reporting requirements of the boards and officers of public bodies and the oversight mandates of senior establishment officers such as Permanent Secretaries and the political heads of Ministries, Departments & Agencies,” the JCC continued. 


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