Fri | Feb 22, 2019

Orville Taylor | Petrojam or jelly?

Published:Sunday | December 9, 2018 | 12:00 AM

The difference between a jam and a jelly is that jellies are transparent and have no residue of skin, seed or any other visible part of the fruit. Jams, on the other hand are full of all kinds of chunks, many of which cannot be properly identified.

Sometimes you eat jam and what is sweet in your mouth leaves a lingering bitter taste and you wonder what it is that you ate.

Nonetheless, given the shameful series of revelations at the national oil refinery, the corporation really lived up to its name - because of the hidden chunks of bittersweetness. However, given the fact that there has been so many greasy back-door and underhand dealings, I am willing to call it Petrojelly.

Nothing about the stewardship of the entity now surprises me, although I feel a personal sense of shame because the then minister, Andrew Wheatley, a bright man who I know knows better, wrong-footed us all. Now, it is just a matter of what else is going to be discovered.

Indeed, there have been not only the skeletons relating to the cost overruns on the wall, travel expenses for the 'bored' members, but maybe there is flesh on the bones.

Perhaps Wheatley's multiple degrees are so plentiful that he could have shared them with the myriad underqualified persons in the employ. However, maybe there is no correlation between one's educational background and one's performance.

Thus, the conspiracy involving the grossly underqualified human resources manager and her undocumented sibling, who was employed as an electrical specialist, is not shocking. After all, part of being bright and qualified should also be about being smart. Can someone tell me just how dumb one can be to think that making nepotistic decisions in full view of the staff and minister could reasonably be expected to remain hidden?

I recall, at another time, another politician remarking that his embattled colleague was believed to have been "able to handle it". And when the lights were turned on, it was discovered that the bright young man with more than one degree had dropped the catch and the balls slipped through his legs.

The US$1,000 spent on an elaborate piece of pastry is just the icing on the cake. Not to mention a party that was almost as expensive as the political one itself.

This is a moment of deep embarrassment, because Wheatley is just too intelligent to plead ignorance here. He certainly cannot say he did not know anything about the funding of the party, because this was a major talking point on the regular talk-radio shows. In fact, on several occasions, a political demagogue called 'Comrade', who occupies the 'Hot Line' space on RJR94FM, kept on riding the green motorcycle, the green car and the party, to such an extent that I wondered whether he had inside knowledge.

At best, the response from Wheatley was dismissive and one would have been tempted to accept the position of this man of science that there was nothing untoward regarding the party and other such matters, and that the money spent was not Government's dollars.

If he really was totally oblivious as to who was paying for the cake and party, who hired the lady with a degree short of the job and all the other shortcomings, he was sleeping on the job or turned his back.

From what I know of him, since he was a graduate student and young academic on the plantation where I work, Wheatley, a man who understands the importance of data, primary research and performance measurement, is not the kind of person to turn his back on any Petrojelly miscue.

Thus, given that he, in my opinion, must have known, he clearly is not as smart as his degrees suggest, because he is too bright not to know that the fat which is hidden on the bottom of the oil pan would have reached the top, since water is heavier than oil.

My question is, what are the ultimate sanctions which the guilty persons will face? Simply resigning or being fired is a mere slap on the wrist.

Coming from a series of talks I just gave to the St Andrew South and St Catherine North police divisions, and being acutely aware of the conditions and challenges under which they work, it is sad that they are the poster children of corruption in this country.

True, many police officers suffer from 'corporal tunnel syndrome' and salute like the Salvation Army, with palms facing upwards. However, the money lost by poor accountability, non-adherence to government procurement guidelines, and cronyism in the award of contracts cost the country multimillions.

On a proportional basis, there is no set of public officials and officers that have had the kind of scrutiny or have punished or purged more of its members as the constabulary has.

As we speak, hundreds of police officers are doing their promotion polygraph tests, and despite their studies, many will fail. Yet, let me ask how many other public officials have to take these lie-detector tests?

My contention has always been that it is sauce for the goose and gander. If little Officer Dibble, who takes a grand or two for traffic ticket, not pressing a particular charge, or allowing a dance to go on long past 2 a.m., has to submit himself to one of these invasive examinations, why shouldn't those at the helm of Petrojelly and other such entities?

Zero tolerance to corruption must start at the head of the stream, even as we use states of public emergency (SOPE). In a country where violent crime is the biggest challenge, we need tighter governance and better use of our Petrojelly, even if we still use the SOPE.

- Dr Orville Taylor is head of the Department of Sociology at the UWI, a radio talk-show host, and author of 'Broken Promises, Hearts and Pockets'. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and tayloronblackline@hotmail.com.