Thu | Feb 21, 2019

Editorial | Integrity Commission must still probe Petrojam

Published:Wednesday | June 20, 2018 | 12:00 AM

The deepening scandal over the seeming abandon with which managers at Petrojam, the oil refinery, tossed around taxpayers' money triggered the resignations of the three Jamaica Government-appointed board members.

It is also likely to have reinforced the perception among the more than 80 per cent of Jamaicans who hold this belief that their country is corrupt and led to another session of hand-wringing on the subject. That's where, even if there is a bit of official investigation, such matters usually end. With a deep sense of cynicism.

The case ought not to end there. It provides an opportunity for a new start and a reversal of the doubt that the Government and its institutions have the will to tackle what most citizens believe to be a major problem - crisis even.

First, we make no claim that any acts of corruption have, in fact, been perpetrated at Petrojam, which Jamaica owns with Venezuela, or that anyone is guilty of an offence. We, however, insist that the accusations - laid bare before Parliament's Public Administration and Appropriations Committee - of cronyism, breach-of-procurement rules, and generally poor governance be fully investigated - beyond the probe being undertaken by the Auditor General's Department.

It is not that this newspaper doesn't hold in highest regard the competence of that agency. Indeed, we have great respect for the capacities of the AGD and the skills of its boss Pamela Monroe Ellis.

However, the Auditor General's Department is designed primarily to carry out ex post facto research of the financial operations of government agencies, with an emphasis on how rules were followed and efficiencies achieved. That is part of the story, but it is not a specific segment of the remit or skill set of the AGD to speak with authority on the legal minutiae of government procurement or contract awards and to ferret out corrupt behaviour.

That is why that issue should fall for investigation to a bespoke agency like the newly formed Integrity Commission, with its specialised investigative and prosecutorial arms. Indeed, it is an opportunity for the commission to signal to the public the aggression with which it intends to pursue allegations of corruption and show it capable of organising itself in a manner that can win the trust of the public.


Operationally Unwieldy


We expect that the Integrity Commission will be criticised for being, at least potentially, operationally unwieldy. Mostly, especially in the face of an overly cautious director of investigations, decisions on what cases are probed will await meetings of the commissioners, who then issue general or specific instructions on the matter. There is, though, room for the investigator, in this case David Grey, to proceed on his own initiative, leaving the commissioners to catch up with any directions they may have.

Mr Grey would be aware, if he were to proceed, and find prima facie evidence of corruption, that only a robustly and professionally investigated case would form the basis for the laying of charges and proceeding to trial, especially with the clear imprimatur of the commissioners, without their direction that the matter be referenced to the director of public prosecutions.

In that regard, we await to hear from either Mr Grey and the commission's chairman, Justice Karl Harrison, whether the Petrojam matter is, or has been, in their roster and, if not, why.