Sat | Oct 19, 2019

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

Published:Wednesday | May 22, 2019 | 12:27 AMLivern Barrett/Senior Parliamentary Reporter
Lionel Myrie, PCJ director and former assistant to ex-Energy Minister Andrew Wheatley, appearing before the PAC last week.
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In the same email, Myrie indicated that the request from the McCook’s Pen Citizens’ Association had been withdrawn.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.

livern.barrett@gleanerjm.com