Saturday 15 December, 2018

Petrojam Scandal: Wrongdoers should be prosecuted, says NIA boss

Professor Trevor Munroe

Professor Trevor Munroe

There are growing calls for the major players in the Petrojam scandal to be criminally prosecuted.

The latest call comes from the head of corruption watchdog, National Integrity Action (NIA), Professor Trevor Munroe. It follows a similar call on Wednesday by General Secretary of the Opposition People’s National Party (PNP), Julian Robinson, who said the authorities should "follow the money" in pursuit of the truth.

The mounting calls follow the damning report of Auditor General Pamela Munroe Ellis, into the affairs of the state-run Petroleum Corporation of Jamaica (PCJ) and its subsidiary, Petrojam.

The audit report, which was tabled in parliament on Tuesday, paints a picture of recklessness with taxpayers' money to include numerous breaches of Government’s procurement guidelines.

Among these were lavish “surprise parties” for then portfolio Minister Andrew Wheatley and former board chairman, Perceval Bahadoo-Singh, which cost millions, including a chocolate covered ‘topsy-turvy’ cake for US$1,000 (J$130,000); cases of nepotism involving members of the senior management team who employed their relatives; questionable contracts and decisions without board approval which cost tens of millions of dollars without value 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 over five years dating back to 2013.

According to Munroe, those responsible should be made to pay.

He said it was now time for the Major Organised Crime and Anti-Corruption Agency (MOCA) and the Integrity Commission to complete their investigations into Petrojam and initiate prosecutions where the evidence indicates that necessity.

“In particular, NIA and the public would wish to know what sanctions are available for breaches of the Public Bodies Management and Accountability Act and the Public Procurement Act assented to by the governor general on October 5, 2015," Munroe said in a statement on Wednesday.

Munroe added that sanctions should be applied and punishment meted out to those responsible for the egregious breaches set out in the auditor general's report.

He praised the auditor general for responding to public concerns and parliament’s Public Administration and Appropriations Committee, which first made the Petrojam scandal public, for discharging their functions admirably.

"The public must insist on decisive action. Failure to enforce the law shall further erode public confidence in the capacity of our democratic institutions to deal effectively with crime and corruption and increase the percentage of our citizenry who believe that governmental authorities are not doing enough to punish wrongdoers in high places," said Munroe.

He said the breaches that have been exposed in the audit report are but examples of "lawless behaviour and abuse of public funds by Petrojam authorities, aspects of which have been identified in previous auditor general reports of 2007, 2010, and in the Venezuelan Audit of 2017".

As it relates to the so-called ‘surprise parties’, Munroe described it as “the decadent self-indulgence represented in the general manager's (Floyd Grindley’s) approval of payment for a chocolate cake valued at US$1,000 in a country where this far exceeds a month's salary for a hard-working teacher, an officer in the JCF (Jamaica Constabulary Force), and many public servants".

"Neither the Jamaican prime minister, Cabinet, Parliament, private sector, or man in the street can be at all satisfied by resignations of board members and senior staff against this background. Relevant public bodies and law enforcement must now do their job," Munroe stated.

Opposition Leader Dr Peter Phillips has described the situation at Petrojam as the “mother of all scandals.”

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