Fri | Sep 21, 2018

Editorial | More twists in Petrojam Affair

Published:Thursday | July 12, 2018 | 12:00 AM

The formal jury, it appears, is still out on Dr Andrew Wheatley over the Petrojam affair. But, Floyd Grindley is firmly under the bus. The former general manager of the state-owned oil refinery has been fired. Or, according to Prime Minister (PM) Andrew Holness, he "agreed to separate from the company". Constructively, it's the same thing.

Mr Grindley, therefore, has joined the Jamaican members of the Petrojam board who resigned early in the piece over the claims of cronyism, corruption, and generally poor governance at the company. What is not clear from the PM's announcement is what role Mr Grindley will play in the ongoing investigations, including explaining how a young, former high-flying and respected professional and Seventh-day Adventist deacon became embroiled in this reputation-damaging fiasco.

With regard to Dr Wheatley, he was partially fired as a member of Mr Holness' government. That is, he was relieved of the energy segment of his portfolio, but still sits in the Cabinet, with responsibility for science and technology.

At least, by these actions, and his mandate for updated governance regimes at public-sector agencies, Mr Holness clearly accepts that things went awry. Indeed, the Cabinet, according to the PM, was "satisfied that there are indications where the previous board may have departed from policy".

However, the administration, the prime minister argued, has, in the circumstances, been proportionate in its actions and would await the findings of investigations by the auditor general and the Accountability Inspectorate of the finance ministry before going any further, which we interpret to mean his refusal, thus far, to eject Dr Wheatley from the Cabinet.

We, of course, make no claim about Dr Wheatley, except for what we believe was, at a minimum, a gross display of poor judgement and inept ministerial oversight of an agency of critical importance to the Jamaican economy. When Mr Holness' parliamentary statement on Tuesday is stripped of its contortions and circumlocutions that essentially, the same conclusion the PM arrived about Dr Wheatley, whose continued presence in the Cabinet means that he is/will be party to any discussion on Petrojam and subject to the principle of collective responsibility.

 

PM's EXTENSIVE DISCUSSIONS

 

For instance, having assumed responsibility for the energy portfolio, Mr Holness disclosed that he had extensive discussions with officials of that ministry, including the Cabinet's debriefing of the ministry's permanent secretary in the wake of the Petrojam scandal.

On the basis of those discussions, Mr Holness concluded that, "generally speaking", there was no "policy or administrative failure in the energy division".

"But clearly, there are specific issues at Petrojam," the prime minister said. "These point to failures in corporate governance and breakdown in accountability."

The first rung of corporate governance and accountability rest with management. Then it escalates to the level of the board that provides oversight to the actions of managers.

In this case, Mr Holness reminded, "the board reports directly to the minister, not the permanent secretary, and takes policy directions from the minister".

The extension of this argument is that where boards are "in breach of policy guidelines", then it is the minister who is to be held accountable. The directors and Mr Grindley, it was felt, had to go. In Dr Wheatley's case, the prime minister demanded that he shed the skin that he wore in Cabinet discreetly in his role as energy minister, without effect on either epidermis or dermis of science and technology.