Friday 21 September, 2018

Petrojam controversy deepens as PAAC members grill GM

General Manager, Petrojam Limited, Floyd Grindley

General Manager, Petrojam Limited, Floyd Grindley

When the General Manager of state-owned oil refinery Petrojam reappears before the Public Administration and Appropriations Committee (PAAC), he will have to provide a number of reports clarifying what they deem unacceptable breaches of government’s procurement guidelines on numerous projects.

PAAC chairman Dr Wykeham McNeill noted that some “troubling issues” were raised in his summary of a long and sometimes contentious meeting on Wednesday, during which opposition members of the PAAC, in particular Fitz Jackson, openly showed their disgust at the answers or non answers provided by Petrojam General Manager, Floyd Grindley.

 “I am not particularly satisfied with how the proceedings have gone with Petrojam today,” McNeill said as he began his summary.

“I have found, just looking on…that from time to time information has been difficult to obtain and often confusing. Quite frankly for me, this is one of those few meetings that I’ve gone into where I have come out of the meeting with much more questions in my mind than I had going in."

Grindley has been asked by McNeill to provide detailed reports on the following:

*Why a perimeter wall that was initially estimated by the National Works Agency to cost just under $30 million ended up costing $96.8 million.

*Why public relations and marketing firm, Main Events Limited was retained at a cost of $13.9 million and whether in addition to the retainer, Petrojam is billed by the company each time Main Events does work on its behalf.

*How and why a company that goes by the name Asha Corporation, which is incorporated in the United States, was contracted for consultancy and other services and why cheques for work done were made payable to the consultant who is affiliated with the company and not to the company itself.

*Why established procurement procedures were not followed when an airline ticket in the amount of approximately US$8,000 (J$1 million) was purchased for the Board Chairman of Petrojam, Dr Perceval Bahado-Singh to attend a function in London on the company’s behalf in February. The Chairman, who resides in the United States, having not attended the meeting, did not return the money for the ticket until last week, a full two weeks after Opposition spokesman on Energy, Phillip Paulwell raised the matter in the parliament.

* Whether an airline ticket was purchased for the chairman to travel to Brazil on company business. The committee also wants to see the total spent on the chairman’s travels, including hotel accommodation. Pointing out that Bahado-Singh was not an executive chairman, McNeill said “we would like to know the specific expertise that he brings (to the position) that we cannot find in Jamaica.”

*The PAAC also wants to know whether the proper procurement procedures were used when the Human Resources manager was employed at a salary in excess of $12 million, as well as her qualifications.

*Why up to 10 per cent of the technical staff left the company last year and why two matters involving staff separation are now before the courts. Grindley told the committee that staff members were “leaving for greener pastures.”

About Main Events Limited, McNeill said: “We would like to know what the terms of engagement are and to see exactly why it was felt that a retainer was necessary when, for any event you want, you have any number of events promoters you could call on and all would be happy and willing. You would understand that with a retainer of $13.9 million, it’s going to open up a lot of questions as to why go that route.”

And about Asha Corporation, committee members, led by Mikhail Phillips, had earlier grilled Grindley on how the company was engaged, its expertise, including its board of directors and whether it was providing any other service to Petrojam.

It was revealed that Petrojam paid Asha Corporation for three contracts in the sums of US$59,000, US$47,000 and US$55,000 between May 2017 and April this year. While Grindley struggled to provide clarity on Petrojam’s dealings with Asha Corporation, the Group Managing Director of the Petroleum Corporation of Jamaica, the parent company for Petrojam, Winston Watson, appeared to deepen the controversy.

Watson told the committee that the services being provided by the US-based company were available internally.

“We have our chief accountant and we have a consultant that can provide that kind of service,” Watson said.

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