The Petrojam scandal must not be allowed to die. On the contrary, it must be pursued until those guilty of misdeeds end up before the courts and in jail. This scandal, which is merely the giant tip of an even bigger iceberg, has shown in a simple, bare, raw and grotesque manner how corruption eats away at the fabric of the nation. Not only has it shown how far-reaching nepotism is in this country, it has, in some minds, finally confirmed that the chief reason for our impoverishment and lack of infrastructure is willful blindness and rampant corruption.
By one estimate the payout to the former HR manager (along with her salary) has in total amounted to what would be accumulated by a teacher after 20 years in that profession. Put another way, that money which Ms Ramharrack was paid, represents one less lifetime educator, as the money to pay them isn’t there. When placed in that frame one truly has to wonder why it is we as a citizenry have not demanded that people at the very least be brought to the courts.
The disappearing gas also shows how corruption and willful blindness eat away at us and leave us worse for wear. The refinery at Petrojam is in desperate need of repair and upgrade, however Petrojam and her Venezuelan counterpart are skint and as such cannot go ahead with the upgrade. Things have got to such a heated place that Jamaica has stated that it will be seizing the 49% owned by its Venezuelan partner after a disagreement raised itself regarding how to price the 49%.
A big part of the reason that Petrojam is too broke to either do the upgrade or buy the outstanding shares at the marked value is because gas totalling a dollar value of billions has up and disappeared and is unaccounted for (fancy words for stolen).
Could it be that if a forensic audit was done to all ministries and government agencies that we would see the same insanity that we see going on at Petrojam? Could it be that if a forensic audit was done to our debt, to the loans, credits and grants we received, that we would find that nothing has been spent on us, no minutes kept or asked for and that persons have made away with the family jewellery? I lean towards a yes and I think that most Jamaicans would lean that way too, especially after reading the Petrojam report and the amounts of money so glibly wasted.
But what will be done, and will we the people be willing to accept whatever action is taken, even if it is a slap on the wrist? So far it seems as if the saga will run its usual course and nothing will happen. This cannot be the case. We are a nation that has become accustomed to the most heinous and grotesque crimes and acts of corruption, all the time fully aware of the fact that these two things alone are the reasons that we find ourselves 40 years behind most countries. How do we stop the madness and ensure people are both held to account and don’t act in this manner?
Haiti, as I write, is showing the end result of rampant corruption and abuse of power. For weeks people have been protesting in the streets demanding the resignation of the Government because of alleged corruption and abuse.
Guatemala had to get a UN special envoy in order to help clear up their corruption and bring people to trial because the local personnel faced real threats against their life. What are we doing to address our corruption, the corruption which in one confirmed case has wiped out at least one career teacher? Who is demanding that people be brought to the courts and face jail, or is this okay because at least they are not on the job anymore?
This is a situation which we can’t trust to our local officials (such as the politicians). Too many, if not all, may be implicated if only by willful blindness, and the Auditor General alone can’t look into all suspect agencies and ministries. However, if we the citizens are serious about this, if we are serious about not only denting but ending corruption then we can agitate and do something ourselves.
As incomplete as the tools are, and despite the fight which the State will put up we can take matters into our own hands. The many lawyers we have (including the graduates who in the hundreds can’t find jobs) could form a group which looks exclusively at government corruption utilising the Access to Information Act. That group could share findings with the AGD so investigations can be launched. That group could provide both evidence and assistance to the DPP, so people actually go before the courts and do jail time. Ditto for the accountants, they could form a group and, using the same law do a private investigation, share findings and evidence and force people to face justice.
Something must give. The Auditor General alone cannot and should not be keeping these people and agencies on their toes. We need to assist at some point, we need to make our voices heard, make people aware of our indignation and demand that people go face the courts. It can’t be business as usual because business as usual has cost us doctors, teachers, engineers and a fancy upgrade to our decrepit refinery. This is costing us dearly, hospitals not being maintained, having to borrow to top up budgets, pit toilets in schools, all of this can be traced back to the corruption which eats away at the society (and in part funds violent crime).
This thing which has destroyed our nation is cross-party and runs through every administration since independence (even before we look at local government). Every government, like some macabre ritual, have at least one minister disgraced in a corruption scandal, and every time we cuss them out and then shut up when they are moved on to new offices. The insanity has to stop. We are in debt up to our eyeballs with no realistic hope of both paying it off and living a half-decent life and by both political parties’ own admission some of the debt was syphoned off for corrupt activities.
We need to know how much was stolen, who took it and then lock them up while clawing back the money. If we don’t do that, then we can accept the bad roads and us selling off everything in this country as we fall further into debt and struggle to maintain government infrastructure. If we are not going to do what Haiti is doing (rebel and demand the ousting of all corrupt politicians and political parties) then we can mimic Guatemala.
To again highlight just how corruption, in the end, eats away at the heart of the nation and destroys any chance we have of saving ourselves, look at the recent debate in Parliament about the impending seizure of the outstanding Petrojam shares. In 2017 it was valued at US$170,000,000 considering the fact that Petrojam Jamaica was to invest US$100,000,000 and even took out the cash as a loan. Why then has it fallen to US$34,000,000; where has the money gone? Was the US$100,000,000 invested and what are the benefits, why did it fail if invested and if not where is the cash? These questions remain unasked because they may lead to an ugly conclusion for both parties, and just like that corruption costs us both our international reputation along with lengthy and costly delays in securing our energy.
If we are terrified of going the Haitian way and too embarrassed to go the Guatemala way, then we can at the very least take a page out of Trinidad & Tobago and do our own investigations and name and shame guilty people within the confines of our rigid liabel and slander laws. As I have said before, we have the tools, and we have the manpower. Help the Auditor General, her department can’t do it alone and much like education, corruption can only be dealt with on a communal basis.
Let’s do the investigations, form the groups, name and shame, pass on information to the Auditor General and the DPP to avoid people being removed from positions today and keeping the money, only to be put in positions of power tomorrow. Lock them up, create citizen groups to maintain vigilance and assist the authorities and get the money back. Until that happens, until we rise up and say enough in both word and deed we will always be living in a land of white elephants and uncompleted projects.