Tuesday 21 January, 2020

Petrojam: 42 workers have left since 2016 - Wheatley

Some 42 employees, the majority of them technical and managerial level staff, have left the scandal-hit state-owned oil refinery Petrojam since 2016, according to former Energy Minister, Dr Andrew Wheatley.

Wheatley made the disclosure while answering questions from Opposition Member of Parliament for Central Manchester, Peter Bunting during a marathon question and answer session in the House of Representatives on Tuesday.

For more than four hours, Wheatley was peppered with questions by Opposition Members of Parliament about his stewardship of Petrojam for which he had portfolio responsibility up to Monday. Responsibility for the energy portfolio now resides in the Office of the Prime Minister after Wheatley was stripped of the responsibility.

This, over the deepening corruption scandal that keeps unfolding at Petrojam. Apart from allegations of questionable spending, some of which have resulted in millions of dollars in losses for the company, there have also been charges of nepotism and cronyism which have in part reportedly led to the exodus of qualified employees, some of whom have rare skills.

In an effort to quell rumours that many staff members had left because of blatant cronyism and nepotism and even outright corrupt practices, Wheatley told the House that the majority of those who left, did so for “greener pastures” both in Jamaica and overseas. He said many of the staff now at New Fortress Energy in Jamaica are former Petrojam employees.

He said 20 employees left Petrojam in 2016, including 16 who resigned, two for medical reasons, one who went back to school and one who was dismissed.

In 2014, some 14 persons left, including three who resigned and two who retired, while eight persons have departed from the state entity since the start of this year.

Additionally, Wheatley confirmed reports that first came out of Parliament’s Public Administration and Appropriations Committee that the incumbent human resource manager at Petrojam is being paid just over $3 million more than the person who last held the position.

He said the former human resource manager was being paid $9.5 million, compared with the $12.6 million being paid to the current manager. He explained that the increase was to reflect the expanded functions of the incumbent. According to Wheatley, the hefty compensation package was based on the manager's qualifications.

According to a document that Wheatley read from, both compensation packages are inclusive of basic pay, duty allowance, discomfort allowance, ER, savings and travelling.

However, Bunting was not satisfied with the responses and suggested that the majority of the staff who left did so because the “work environment had become toxic.” He also asserted that the former manager was more qualified than the incumbent.

According to Bunting, the former HR manager who was callously dismissed on Christmas Eve also had more experience, having worked elsewhere as HR manager before being recruited by Petrojam, while the incumbent only had experience as a HR officer.

Bunting also revealed that having been dismissed without cause and taken her case before the Industrial Disputes Tribunal, the dismissed manager is being asked to accept one year’s salary as settlement.

In the end, and with Wheatley answering many questions by repeating that the Auditor General’s probe, which is now underway at the entity will provide clarity, both Opposition Leader, Dr Peter Phillips and Bunting urged Wheatley to do the honourable thing and resign.

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