$300m gas giveaway – Petrojam, Gov’t gave up chunk of revenue from price cut near elections

Ricardo Makyn

Petrojam and the Government gave up revenue totalling close to $300 million because of the decision taken by former general manager of the state-owned oil refinery, Floyd Grindley, to shave $2 off the ex-refinery price of gasolene products around the time of the 2016 local government elections and again over a one-month period ending in January the following year. 

But more troubling for some members of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) of Parliament was that senior executives at Petrojam could not indicate on whose instructions Grindley acted when the price rollback was implemented.

Facing questions from PAC Chairman Mark Golding and Mikael Phillips, the opposition member who first raised the issue, Michael Hewett, manager of logistics and marketing at Petrojam and a member of the company’s pricing committee, recounted that he and the chief financial officer (CFO) at the time raised objections to Grindley’s action, but were overruled.

“Members, the answer is that we are not aware of any instructions [that Grindley was acting on]. The [former] GM took positions and those were the ones that were implemented,” Hewett said during a meeting of the PAC at Gordon House yesterday.

“What was your understanding as to why this was being done?” Golding questioned.

“Both myself and the CFO at the time were clearly of the view that the direction was not in keeping with the normal direction. But there was a decision-making process that was followed, and that was the result,” Hewett responded.

Golding was not satisfied.

“No explanation was proffered to you at the committee as why this was being pursued?” he pressed.

“There was a sense that’s the direction that was desired,” Hewett replied.
email trail

Earlier this month, an email presented to the PAC revealed that on November 23, 2016 – five days before the local government elections – former Petrojam Chairman Dr Perceval Bahado-Singh instructed a top executive at the refinery to slash $2 off the ex-refinery price of several gasolene products.

Another email showed that 14 minutes later, incumbent general manager of Petrojam, Winston Watson, ordered a subordinate to ensure that the chairman’s directive was carried out.

In documents submitted to the PAC yesterday, Watson revealed that Petrojam lost an estimated $42.5 million in revenues and the Government lost an estimated $4.25 million in taxes as a result of the $2 reduction in the price of gasolene, which was in effect for the week of November 24 to 30.

The $2 reduction was again implemented over the period December 8, 2016 to January 11, 2017, this time costing the state-owned refinery $227 million in revenues.

The second round of price cut cost the Government $21.25 million in taxes.

“This matter is getting really absurd that a general manager could take decisions like this,” Phillips lamented.

The documents also show that almost immediately after Grindley took over as general manager in 2016, there were changes to the membership of the pricing committee and how it arrived at the ex-refinery price for gasolene products.

Under the new decision-making process, the general manager had final decision on the price movement, irrespective of whether there was consensus among the four members, which was three fewer than what obtained before Grindley’s tenure.

News Credit: The Jamaica Gleaner | Read here http://jamaica-gleaner.com/article/lead-stories/20190522/300m-gas-giveaway-petrojam-govt-gave-chunk-revenue-price-cut-near

Palmer: $9m Petrojam donation not handled in usual manner – Permanent secretary confirms no estimate received for Sydenham project

Lionel Myrie, PCJ director and former assistant to ex-Energy Minister Andrew Wheatley, appearing before the PAC last week.

Petrojam has confirmed that it saw no supporting documents for work to be undertaken when it disbursed a controversial $9-million donation to the Sydenham Citizens’ Association in St Catherine.

By contrast, the state-owned oil refinery confirmed that the McCook’s Pen Citizens’ Association, the original beneficiary of the $9 million donation, submitted estimates for their proposed community project.

The disclosures came yesterday as Petrojam conceded that the request from the Sydenham Citizens’ Association was not handled in the normal manner.

“The team from Petrojam is advising that it is usual for them to get estimates and so on, but in this [Sydenham] case, nothing was provided,” Carol Palmer, permanent secretary in the energy ministry, disclosed yesterday during a meeting of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) of Parliament.

The donation is the subject of an investigation by the Major Organised Crime and Anti-Corruption Agency.

The request by the Sydenham Citizens’ Association was forwarded to Petrojam boss at the time, Floyd Grindley, on July 5, 2017, via an email from Lionel Myrie, a director of its parent company, Petroleum Corporation of Jamaica. At the time, Myrie was also special assistant to then Energy Minister Dr Andrew Wheatley.

In the same email, Myrie indicated that the request from the McCook’s Pen Citizens’ Association had been withdrawn. Members of the executive of that association have publicly denied withdrawing the request.

An exposé published by The Gleaner yesterday revealed that on July 17, 2019 – 12 days after Myrie’s email was sent – $9,000,381.50 was deposited to the bank account of the Sydenham Citizens’ Association. The money was then removed over a five-week period in nine withdrawals of $900,000 each, a check of the association’s bank book showed.

Michael Uylett, president of the citizens’ group, indicated that the money was requested to renovate the community centre and revealed that no documents were submitted to Petrojam to support the request for the donation.

Uylett, who now resides overseas, disclosed that the money was used to purchase materials and pay workmen, but said there is no documentation as payments were made in cash.

Incumbent Petrojam General Manager Winston Watson said that from his understanding, “a request was made and it was justified as a reasonable request”.

“I’m not sure if they had supplied BQs (bills of quantities) or anything like that around the project,” he said before being challenged by opposition member of the PAC, Peter Bunting.

“If they hadn’t supplied that, on what basis would it be determined that it was reasonable?” Bunting questioned.

“When they (team from Petrojam) went to Sydenham, there were a couple of people outside, but they would not communicate anything further than to say, ‘Look, there is the building.’ The building looked like it was recently painted or fixed up, but I can’t comment further than that,” Watson replied.

In documents turned over to the PAC, Watson disclosed that nearly two years later, representatives of the company have not been able to locate Uylett or gone inside the building that benefited from the $9 million donation.

“Efforts were made to locate and contact Mr Michael Uylett, whose name appears on the letter of request for donation. This proved futile,” he said, before being ridiculed by Bunting.

“They seemed to have been able to get information that Petrojam’s team was unable to get,” Bunting said in reference to The Gleaner’s exposé.

Uylett’s relocation to the United States also did not escape his attention.

“I don’t know if this is coincidence, but a lot of the persons who could help us with information seem to have either died or migrated,” he said.

Myrie told the PAC last week that he was asked by late councillor Owen Palmer to forward the request for the donation.

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News Credit: The Jamaica Gleaner | Read here http://jamaica-gleaner.com/article/lead-stories/20190522/palmer-9m-petrojam-donation-not-handled-usual-manner-permanent

Sam Sharpe Diagnostic Centre to open next month

Adrian Frater

Western Bureau:

The new J$62-million Sam Sharpe Diagnostic and Early Intervention Centre, which has been established to assist at-risk youth, will be officially commissioned into service on Monday, June 3, with three diagnostic classrooms, an assessment room, a multi-purpose auditorium and supporting amenities.

The centre, which will feature specialised staff, was constructed last year. However, according to the college’s administrator, the delay in opening the facility was because of the time needed for staff recruitment.

“Among the staff are a clinical psychologist and a specialist nurse who will be required to engage children, not just for medical purposes, but to give advice on health and wellness,” a release from the college stated. “Also in the staff complement are a special early childhood educator, a physiotherapist, and a teacher’s aide.”

According to Dr Christene Pinnock, lecturer in the Special Education Department at the Sam Sharpe Teachers’ College, the full range of services will not start on June 3, but will be gradually phased in.

“We will be offering screening, diagnosis and early intervention, starting with school-age children from early childhood to primary level and child agencies, based on their recommendations,” said Pinnock. “There is the option of offering services to older students at a later stage.”

Commenting on the need for diagnostic service among the youth population in the immediate environs of the college, which is located in the Granville community, Pinnock said that their offerings will start in that location and then extended to other areas.

“We’re starting with the Sam Sharpe Teachers’ College community and will gradually expand the services throughout western Jamaica, based on a needs assessment and the demand,” said Pinnock. “This will entail collaboration with stakeholders, including the Ministry of Education and child-service agencies.”

To access the services, parents or guardians of at-risk children will need a referral from a medical professional and complete a walk-in registration at the college.

“The centre is a public facility offering its services to other public agencies. It has the capacity to offer early and general intervention services to 30 to 40 children. These interventions, however, are short-term because the objective behind this initiative is for us to intervene and then reintegrate the students into the mainstream school environment,” said Pinnock.

“It’s a diagnostic and early intervention centre for the specific purpose of offering the services mentioned, and students who have been referred will not be enrolled in the facility for more than eight weeks. Thereafter, they will be reintegrated, as it is expected that they will be better able to cope,” added Pinnock.

News Credit: The Jamaica Gleaner | Read here http://jamaica-gleaner.com/article/lead-stories/20190522/sam-sharpe-diagnostic-centre-open-next-month

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More heat on Holness

Ian Allen/Photographer
Prime Minister Andrew Holness

Two prominent business leaders have renewed calls for Prime Minister Andrew Holness to address frontally issues surrounding his yet-to-be-cleared statutory declarations.

Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica (PSOJ) President Howard Mitchell said that Holness’ continued failure to address his long-overdue declarations could result in the erosion of confidence in the Government and Jamaica as a destination for foreign direct investment.

“We are concerned and we would at least like to know why Mr Holness has not made his declarations known. We understand that circumstances alter cases, but we believe that Government must be transparent and accountable,” Mitchell said.

He added that Holness’ failure to be cleared by the Integrity Commission could also give the impression that the leader of the country is not responding to the requirements of the law.

“We think that if there’s a difficulty in meeting that response, then the prime minster must officially deal with the Integrity Commission, to the satisfaction of the commission, and to the extent possible, let the public know the reason for the delay, when it will be rectified, and if it can’t be rectified, why not?” the outspoken PSOJ boss said.

Holness and several other serving and former parliamentarians, including Zavia Mayne, Luther Buchanan, Leslie Campbell, Ian Hayles, Ruel Reid, Arnaldo Brown, and Keith Walford, were flagged after their income, assets, and liabilities declarations were not cleared as cited in the 2017 annual report of the Integrity Commission.

squandering trust

Describing the situation as unacceptable, Jamaica Chamber of Commerce President Lloyd Distant said Holness runs the risk of squandering hard-earned trust from the public and international investors if he continues to drag his feet.

Noting that the request from the Integrity Commission must be adhered to, Distant said the prime minister, being the country’s highest elected official, has more to lose than most by his perceived reluctance to speak on the matter.

He also believes foreign investors usually seek out countries in which they believe the holders of public office have a high degree of trust.

“As a result of that, the confidence that is created in their minds around the holders of public office starts with the prime minister,” Distant said. “And while we don’t suggest that investments will be stopped because of his failure to make known to Parliament his statutory declarations, it should be understood that if it’s not resolved in a satisfactory time, that it is going to be cause for greater concern.”

News Credit: The Jamaica Gleaner | Read here http://jamaica-gleaner.com/article/lead-stories/20190522/more-heat-holness

Vaz, Crawford cleared on by-election spending

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Ann-Marie Vaz

Director of Elections Glasspole Brown has given the green light to the two candidates of the April 4 East Portland by-election, telling The Gleaner yesterday that Member of Parliament Ann-Marie Vaz and the defeated Damion Crawford met the May 16 deadline to declare campaign spending.

Under the Representation of the People (Amendment) Act 2016, contributors, candidates and registered political parties are required to file declarations and reports with the Electoral Commission of Jamaica (ECJ) within a prescribed time frame.

The two candidates, as well as their agents, who contested the by-election had until May 16 to file a declaration of their election expenditures and a declaration that, to the best of their knowledge and belief, no contribution from any impermissible contributor has been accepted during the campaign reporting period.

The Electoral Office of Jamaica boss said both Vaz and Crawford were in good standing, but a report would not be produced until the political parties have also filed their declarations.

“We will not send a report to the Electoral Commission of Jamaica (ECJ) [as yet]. The political parties have until October to make their declarations to the registrar of political parties, after which a report will be sent also to the ECJ. A link will be provided to the candidates’ expenditure and also the party’s expenditure,” Brown explained.

The reporting period began on the first day of a campaign period and ends 180 days after the end of the campaign period, which is from March 4 to September 30 for the by-election in East Portland.

Candidates and contributors must declare all contributions of $250,000 or more. Under the law, candidates may accept a maximum of $1.5 million from any one donor and are only allowed to spend $15 million on election campaigning.

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News Credit: The Jamaica Gleaner | Read here http://jamaica-gleaner.com/article/lead-stories/20190522/vaz-crawford-cleared-election-spending

Titchfield mourns promising student amid anxiety over others injured

Photo by Gareth Davis Sr
Tributes adorn Pranjal Jasti’s empty seat in the grade 8L classroom at Titchfield High School in Portland yesterday.

Port Antonio, Portland:

Hours before 13-year-old Titchfield High School student Pranjal Jasti perished in an accident on Monday, the eighth-grader was harbouring high hopes as he attended an interview seeking to join the quiz team.

Yesterday, crying classmates adorned his empty desk and chair with flowers as they tried to come to terms with the painful reality that Pranjal would not be joining them for any more classes.

Shortly after 3 p.m. on Monday, a 15-seater minibus carrying 27 persons plunged into a ravine after failing to negotiate a corner along the Black Hill main road in Portland. Pranjal was pronounced dead while 23 other students, along with an adult female passenger, the driver and the conductor, were hospitalised.

Twenty of the students in the crash attended Titchfield High, while four were enrolled at Port Antonio High. Fourteen students were released from hospital yesterday.

“He was a very brilliant child. Very promising,” Titchfield principal Richard Thompson said as he reflected on Pranjal yesterday. “Only yesterday – the very day he died – he was interviewed to be a part of our quiz team.”

Titchfield High were crowned TVJ’s Schools’ Challenge Quiz champions in 2016 and were the runners-up to Munro College a year later.

Thompson said the students are suffering from minor cuts and bruises, broken limbs, whiplash and back injuries. Some students were also scheduled to undergo further tests to determine the extent of their injuries.

“It’s a very difficult period. We have experienced death at the school before, but this one is hard. I just hope and pray that eventually, we will get over it,” Robinson said.

The headmaster said it was necessary to bring the school population together yesterday to make them aware of the situation and to share the names of those involved in the accident so they could grieve collectively as the education ministry trauma team assisted with counselling.

“There is a lot of anxiety, people are still in shock. People are angry at the transportation system. The question the students are asking is, ‘Why is it that a bus that is supposed to carry 12 or 15 students or people was allowed to take that many?’ I don’t know. I don’t have the answers. I don’t even have a plan,” Robinson said as he fought back tears.

In the wake of Monday’s accident, the police revealed that the driver had been charged two weeks ago for operating an overloaded bus, and the head of the Portland Police Division has vowed to stamp out the practice.

“This lapping up of students in minibuses will not continue under my watch,” Superintendent Duane Wellington said. “The driver involved in Monday’s fatal accident was prosecuted earlier for transporting 27 people in a minibus.

“We will be out there monitoring the situation. Buses are checked in Port Antonio by the police, but along the route, additional passengers are picked up, which results in an overload,” he explained.

News Credit: The Jamaica Gleaner | Read here http://jamaica-gleaner.com/article/lead-stories/20190522/titchfield-mourns-promising-student-amid-anxiety-over-others-injured

Use outsourcing money to improve public health facilities, Campbell urges Gov’t

Lionel Rookwood/Photographer
Dayton Campbell, opposition spokesman on health, making his Sectoral Debate presentation yesterday.

Opposition Spokesman on Health Dr Dayton Campbell has bashed the plan announced by the Ministry of Health and Wellness to outsource some non-emergency surgeries and diagnostic tests to private contractors to ease the burden on public health facilities.

Health and Wellness Minister Dr Christopher Tufton recently announced the plan, explaining that where a service could not be accessed at a public health facility, the Government would pay for patients to undergo those tests and surgeries privately in a bid to reduce waiting times.

It is part of a broader plan to use $1 billion to fast-track the provision of diagnostic tests and surgeries in the public health sector.

However, Campbell, while making his contribution to the Sectoral Debate yesterday, said he had no issue with patients accessing diagnostic tests at private facilities. However, he raised questions about contractors being used to do surgeries, labelling it a divestment of healthcare with the potential to be exploited by a few.

“There are ethical concerns. The question is: Will the same doctors in the public sector be the ones to do the surgeries in the public-private partnership? How do we ensure that the people are not channelling the hospital work into their private practices? How will the post-operation care be carried out? When these surgeries are done, will these patients be sent to the public ward?” Campbell asked.

no incentives?

The opposition spokesman also questioned what incentives doctors would have to work in the public system if they could get higher rates in the private sector.

He suggested instead that the Government invest the money in improving public facilities.

“If this $1 billion is available, why can’t it be used to improve specific surgical centres in the public system to carry out these surgeries? At most of our major hospitals with multiple operating threatres, at night, only one threatre is used. Why don’t we get the additional staff to ensure that one team is dealing with on-call and another team is dealing with the cases to reduce the waiting list?” Campbell further questioned.

The opposition spokesman also charged that the Government lacked the political will to reverse the free healthcare policy, which the Opposition contends is causing problems in the sector.

“The health sector has always been stretched. We have a sector that is significantly underfunded. This problem has clearly been made worse by the free healthcare policy. The free healthcare policy was, and remains, a pyrrhic political victory, and despite the adverse effect, there is no will to rescind strictly based on political calculations,” he told Parliament.

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News Credit: The Jamaica Gleaner | Read here http://jamaica-gleaner.com/article/lead-stories/20190522/use-outsourcing-money-improve-public-health-facilities-campbell-urges

The Professional Football Association of Jamaica (PFAJ) has been dissolved

The Professional Football Association of Jamaica (PFAJ) has been dissolved

by Dwight Fraser

The Professional Football Association of Jamaica (PFAJ) has been dissolved.

This comes after an agreement between the Jamaica Football Federation (JFF) in consultation with the Premier League Clubs Association (PLCA).

The PFAJ was established in 2008 as a joint venture body between the JFF and the PLCA to administer the running and operations of the local Premier league.

The two bodies in coming to a mutual agreement, concluded that the original objective for the establishment of the PFAJ could now best be achieved without a third body.

Former president of the Kingston and st Andrew football association Rudolph Speid said this is the best thing that could have happened.

Both the JFF and will continue to meet to finalise the roles of the two entities going forward and according to Speid that it is still up in the open as to who will take control of running the National Premier League.

News Credit: IrieFM | Read here http://iriefm.net/the-professional-football-association-of-jamaica-pfaj-has-been-dissolved/

Trelawny Grapples With A Growing Mental Health Challenge

The Medical Officer of Health for Trelawny, Dr Diahann Dale, says the parish is grappling with thousands of people with mental health challenges.

Her comments follow a brutal triple killing in Martha Brae in the parish, involving a mentally ill man on Saturday.

It’s reported that a woman and her five-year-old grandson were chopped to death by her own son, before he was shot dead by police officers who responded to the reports.

Residents of the community, also told the media that they’d previously reported attacks by the man, to the Police and the parish’s Mental Health team.

But the residents said they’d received the ‘run around’ from both.

Dr Dale says the Mental Health team had responded to reports of this man acting strangely before.

She says the Community Mental Health System works well in the parish, despite the challenges.

Resource Shortage

In the meantime, Dr Dale is calling on community members to be more supportive of people living with mental illness.

She says shortage of resources also hampers the team’s efforts.

Dr Dale says there are only four community health service nurses and 5 psychiatric nurse’s aide in the parish.

She says the team also needs more vehicles to respond faster to patients.

She says mentally ill people function normally once they consistently take their medication.

But the Medical Officer says patients’ use of drugs can negatively affect their recovery process.

Dr Diahann Dale, Medical Officer of Health for Trelawny, speaking yesterday with Nationwide News.

She says her team will examine and assess this case and make changes where necessary.

News Credit: Nation Wide Radio | Read here http://nationwideradiojm.com/trelawny-grapples-with-a-growing-mental-health-challenge/

Cricket West Indies does not anticipate any disruption in World Cup preparation

Cricket West Indies does not anticipate any disruption in World Cup preparation

by Dwight Fraser

Cricket West Indies says it does not anticipate any disruption to the squad’s preparation for the ICC World Cup due to the scheduled late arrival of key players from the Indian Premier League.

Seven players, led by talismanic vice-captain Chris Gayle, only joined up with the West Indies squad last Saturday for the pre-tournament camp at the rose Bowl in Southampton, after completing their IPL stints.

This meant that Gayle, along with all-rounders Andre Russell and Carlos Brathwaite, batsmen Evin Lewis, Shimron Hetmyer and Nicholas Pooran, along with fast bowler Oshane Thomas, all missed the just-concluded tri-nations series in Ireland – West indies’ last one-day assignment before the world cup bowls off May 30.

But unlike several other cricket boards which opted to recall its players early from the IPL, CWI Chief Executive Johnny grave said the Caribbean body believed the high profile Twenty/20 tournament served as adequate preparation for the world cup.

The 15-man world cup squad gathered in Southampton last weekend to begin their final preparation for the one-day showpiece, which runs until July 14.

West Indies will climax the camp with a warm-up match against defending world cup champions, Australia, before heading to Bristol where they take on South Africa on May 26 and New Zealand two days later, in official warm-ups.

News Credit: IrieFM | Read here http://iriefm.net/cricket-west-indies-does-not-anticipate-any-disruption-in-world-cup-preparation/