Jamaica oil minister stripped of portfolio

-over Petrojam scandal

Andrew Wheatley

(Jamaica Observer) Andrew Wheatley has been stripped of the energy portfolio in his ministry as the Government moves to cauterise the haemorrhaging it has been suffering from the Petrojam scandal.

A statement from the Cabinet on Monday night said that the energy portfolio will be transferred to the Office of the Prime Minister, effective July 4, 2018.

According to the statement, the decision was taken after discussion with Wheatley, who agreed with Prime Minister Andrew Holness that the transfer would be effected “in the interest of transparency”.

“It was agreed that Petrojam requires strategic review of both its management and operations, as well as its long-term commercial viability and role in Jamaica’s energy security,” said the Cabinet, which spent considerable time yesterday discussing the Petrojam issue.

Petrojam, Jamaica’s only oil refinery and one of the largest contributing companies to the manufacturing sector, has been at the centre of a hailstorm of corruption allegations over the past few weeks, which resulted in the resignation of three Jamaican board members.

The Government has since appointed three new members, who are serving with three directors from the refinery’s Venezuelan partners — Petróleos de Venezuela, SA — which holds a 49 per cent stake.

Last week, the Opposition People’s National Party called for Wheatley, who also holds the science and technology portfolios, to be fired, and the country’s three major private sector groups called for a forensic audit into the operations of Petrojam.

In response, Prime Minister Holness said that the Cabinet has asked the Public Accountability Inspectorate to urgently gather further information on matters related to the direct expenditure of public funds, including but not limited to donations. He also said that the executive was in the process of finalising documentation of its decisions and he would, in short order, inform the country of the specific actions agreed by Cabinet.

In its statement on Monday night, the Cabinet also said it continued its consideration of the report it received last week on Petrojam and, having regard to investigations already under way, decided the following:

1. The residential status of all persons nominated to boards must be stated in the Cabinet submission seeking approval for appointment.

2. Overseas travel of board chairmen or board members must receive prior approval of the minister.

3. Public bodies will be prohibited from entering into sole source retainer contracts without the prior approval of Cabinet.

4. The Ministry of Finance has been tasked to develop and finalise uniformed regulations for public bodies around donations and corporate social responsibility. Among other things, this would see limits on the amount that can be approved at the agency level. It will be a requirement that all donations be disclosed with details to include the amount, the receiving entity, the purpose of the donation, and connected party considerations with the management, board of directors or the minister.

6. A special enterprise team will be assembled to conduct and oversee the organisational and strategic review of Petrojam.