Examining corruption in Jamaica is a complex undertaking; its roots are entrenched in Government bureaucratic organisations, the country’s state security apparatus and the country’s two major political institutions. According to Trading Economics, Jamaica is the 68th least corrupt country out of 175 nations, according to the 2017 Corruption Perceptions Index reported by Transparency International. Corruption rank in Jamaica averaged 72.44 from 1998 until 2017, reaching an all-time high of 99 in 2009 and a record low of 45 in 2002. Statistics have a way of obfuscating the true state of play in terms of a countries mode of corruption. Although things have marginally improved since 2009, the institutional corruption of Public service is difficult to curtail. Simply put, Jamaica has a history of appointing political affiliates to the board of public bodies at the beginning of a newly elected government. Some of these politically appointed directors are, it appears, both corrupt and lacking in understanding of corporate governance essentials. The Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica (PSOJ) has a long record of persistent calls for the Government to fast-track proposed changes to the appointment and structure of public-sector boards. The Auditor General’s Report on Petrojam presents a watershed moment for root and branch changes on how to safeguard against appointing corrupt and inexperienced public officials to Public sector agencies. The purpose of this article is to contribute ideas towards a reform agenda for the administration and oversight of Public service in Jamaica.
According to recent published auditor general’s reports over the last five years, Petrojam Jamaica’s part state own refinery recorded total estimated oil losses of two million barrels, approximately $18 billion, 184,951 barrels in 2018 alone”. The report, compiled by Pamela Munroe-Ellis, points to “explicit acts of nepotism” at both entities and deficiencies in human-resource recruitment and unethical management practices at an unprecedented level. At the centre of this scandal is a former Minister of science, energy and technology, Andrew Wheatley, who was released from his post by the Prime Minister pending the outcome of the investigations by anti-corruption agencies. Professor Trevor Munroe, executive director for National Integrity Action, an affiliate of Transparency International, pointed out in the aftermath of the published report that, “Petrojam’s annual unaccountable oil loss of 0.75 per cent is almost two times its own key performance indicator of 0.40 per cent”. Professor Trevor Munroe is resolute that the full force of the law must be brought against all parties embroiled in the Petrojam saga.
Petrojam, Jamaica’s only petroleum refinery is a limited liability company, jointly owned by PDVCaribe, a subsidiary of Petróleos de Venezuela (PDVSA) and the Petroleum Corporation of Jamaica (PCJ). The PCJ is a statutory body and limited liability created and part owned by the Government of Jamaica who is the majority shareholder. Petrojam supplies a full range of domestic, transportation and industrial petroleum products. The company also operate a laboratory which provides quality control and certification services for petroleum products manufactured and imported by the refinery. Laboratory service is also provided to Jamaican businesses and the scientific community.
On Wednesday June 27th 2018, a joint investigation team from the Major Organised Crime and Anti-Corruption Agency (MOCA) and the new Integrity Commission confiscated documents and computers from Petrojam offices. Prior to that, the opposition PNP had raised concern about the ethical conduct and the lacking of social responsibility by the Chairman of the board and Minister of Science, Energy and Technology Andrew Wheatley. Reacting to pressure from opposition and private sector groups Prime Minister Andrew Holness on the day before the raid on Petrojams stopped short of ordering a direct investigation into the matter. At a meeting of Parliament he acknowledged that the Integrity Commission, the Auditor General’s Department and Major organised crime and anti-corruption Agencies were conducting probes into allegations of corruption, financial mismanagement, and nepotism. He confirmed that a meeting was held with the cabinet and the management team of PetroJam as well as officials of the Ministry of Science, Energy and Technology and that they were questioned about the matter. He asserted also, that the independent anti-corruption agencies involved in the investigations had a legal mandate to conduct inquiries independent of him. Readers interested in the full details and the scope of the Auditor general’s findings can do so at https://rightstepsandpouitrees.wordpress.com/2018/12/09/the-auditor-generals-petrojam-report-international-anti-corruption-day/. Our focus is to offer up for suggestion a workable solution to break the cycle of maleficence.
Kingston- mouth must be up front with the public on this matter. While we are supporters of the Jamaican Labour Party and Mr Holness, our sympathies do not extend to ineptness and nepotism of elected board members whose actions are tantamount to criminal conduct with the management of state assets. We applaud the Prime Ministers effort to remain neutral so that justice can run its course unhindered. It is not in our interest to give free advice on the matter as it is at cross purpose of the consultancy arm our business at Kingstonmouth. None- the- less, we are obliged to make an exception as Jamaica’s reputation is at stake and so we advise generously on this matter.
In short, advice to the Government is to set up a committee on Standards in Public Life as an independent advisory non-departmental public body with a legal mandate to inspect Public Sector Agencies directorship. It should chaired by the political ombudsman or a reputable anti-corruption agency in Jamaica. Its responsibility will be:
- To set up, monitor and vet a list of persons with the requisite qualifications and knowledge of corporate knowledge in non-commercial & commercial sectors.
- To conduct broad inquiries into standards of conduct of Public Sector Directors and to make the necessary referral if there is a suspicion of unethical, negligence or criminal conduct in the administration of public affairs.
- To commission an induction and ongoing training programme on the essentials of good corporate governance for every Director appointed to a public body in Jamaica.
- To make recommendations as to changes in present arrangements of how Directors are selected, inducted and trained in the Public Sector.
- To give legal advice to the cabinet and Prime Minister and the Leader of the opposition on Corporate Governance and ethical standards in public life.
- To monitor and grade the performance of all public sector boards and to submit an annual report to the Cabinet Secretary.
- To promote the seven principles of public life according to British Judge Lord Nolan report of 1995, these being:
selflessness – Holders of public office should act solely in terms of the public interest. They should not do so to gain financial or other benefits for themselves, their family or their friends.
Integrity – Holders of public office should not place themselves under any financial or other obligation to outside individuals or organisations that might seek to influence them in the performance of their official duties.
Objectivity – In carrying out public business, including making public appointments, awarding contracts, or recommending individuals for rewards and benefits, holders of public office should make choices on merit and facts not on personal judgements
Accountability – Holders of public office are accountable for their decisions and actions to the public and must submit themselves to whatever scrutiny is appropriate to their office.
Openness – Holders of public office should be as open as possible about all the decisions and actions they take. They should give reasons for their decisions and restrict information only when the wider public interest clearly demands.
Honesty – Holders of public office have a duty to declare any private interests relating to their public duties and to take steps to resolve any conflicts arising in a way that protects the public interest.
Leadership – Holders of public office should promote and support these principles by leadership and example (1995 Lord Nolan).
To conclude, for a long period of time both political parties in Jamaica have arguably settled for the lowest possible standards of behaviour in terms of openness, honesty and transparency when managing public sector agencies. The contractor general’s report on the Petrojam scandal has generated a heated discussion in Jamaica with fingers pointing in all sorts of accusatory directions. The cost of corruption in in Jamaica’s GDP is too big and expensive to ignore and cannot be overstated. At stake are the countries international reputation and the massive loss of earnings form corruption of public bodies. It diverts money away from critical healthcare, education, social security and much needed infrastructural improvements. The country still has some way to go to deploy anti- corruption mechanisms effectively into public organisation as there is a tacit resistance to it. Kingston mouth has offered advice on how the Government should strengthen the corporate governance of public bodies in Jamaica. We at Kingston-mouth have a great deal of respect for Jamaica’s Prime Minster Andrew Holness and his attempt at growing the Jamaican economy, so we recommend a Noland style approach to solve the problem.
This matter presents a challenge to his political manifesto of tackling corruption. By the same token it gives Jamaican’s Prime Minister Mr. Andrew Holness the opportunity to have a root and branch reform to improve the efficiency and integrity of the Corporate Governance structure of Jamaica’s public service. In the days to come it will be interesting to see how the criminal investigation pans out.
This article was written by Donovan Reynolds CEO and edited by Ann Smith Managing editor of Kingstonmouth.com. Donovan Reynolds is an Independent blogger and Human Right’s Activist of Jamaican descent and a qualified Diplomat who has an interest in Human Rights, Culture and International Development issues. Readers of this article are welcome to provide feedback at the space provided at the end of this article at email@example.com useful commentary made on our Facebook and Kingsonmouth@twitter pages.