Fri | Apr 19, 2019

‘Nothing to hide’ - PM pledges tell-all on Ramharrack; to table severance deal in Parliament

Published:Monday | February 11, 2019 | 12:26 AMChristopher Serju/Gleaner Writer
Holness

The public will learn the full details of the severance package of Yolande Ramharrack, the former human resources manager at Petrojam whose non-disclosure agreement stoked a firestorm of criticism for Prime Minister Andrew Holness. The disciplinary charges against her will also be laid bare.

Holness, who was pressed last Tuesday to reveal the terms and conditions of Ramharrack’s negotiated settlement, said yesterday that the multilayered appellate process could have cost the Government upwards of $35 million.

“The question is still being asked, what was the settlement and what were the charges? I will be tabling the contract in Parliament because it is such a matter of important public interest for all those who would want to make mischief and drag people’s name through the mud and make false insinuations and accusations and who have suddenly been clothed with the air of righteousness,” Holness, who is also leader of the ruling Jamaica Labour Party, said during a party Area One Council Conference at the Pembroke Hall Community Centre in St Andrew.

“I am going to table it, and then they can see for themselves that there is nothing there to hide, and I am not hiding anything from the Jamaican people,” the prime minister declared.

Holness – and before him permanent secretary in the Office of the Prime Minister, Sancia Bennett Templer – came under withering criticism from the Opposition during last Tuesday’s sitting of Parliament for refusing to divulge details of the $9.2-million termination contract, which has sparked national outrage in the wake of a damning report by Auditor General Pamela Monroe Ellis.

“Is only one man in this country who is now in Parliament who has every ever hidden anything of great public importance from his own prime minister and from the people of this country when he signed those two MOUs. That was the most disgraceful non-disclosure,” said Holness in a broadside against Opposition Leader Peter Phillips, who was minister of national security in the Patterson administration. “Now all of sudden, him find mouth, all of a sudden!”

“To this day, our attorney general and our Ministry of Justice have to be working to solve the problem he created when he signed those MOUs,” the prime minister remarked.

His charge was in reference to two secret memoranda of understanding Phillips signed, in 2004 with the United Kingdom and the United States. The documents, which related to multilateral investigations of drug trafficking and organised crime, were signed without the knowledge of Prime Minister P.J. Patterson or any other Cabinet member.

Meanwhile, Holness advised Labourites that while Ramharrack’s severance package appeared to be overly generous, it was a sound “economic decision” made by the board of Petrojam, which saved millions of taxpayer dollars.

He said that the arbitration panel required to hear the dismissal case would have cost at least $5.5 million at a first sitting of 40 hours and a pending appeal panel might sit for another minimum 20 hours. With the Industrial Disputes Tribunal (IDT) as another layer of appeal, the process could have dragged out for much longer, ultimately costing more, the prime minister said.

He explained further: “When the panel makes a decision, there is no guarantee that the employee would stand by it because they still have recourse to appeal, which would mean stretching it out again, maybe another 20 hours of resolution, and then after that, they still have the option of going to the IDT.

“So the board took the decision in the best interest of Petrojam, to save Petrojam a tonload a money. ... They felt that if it went all the way to IDT and the employee won, it would be somewhere in the region of about $35 million that they would have expended, and they couldn’t tell what the award of the IDT would have been.”

christopher.serju@gleanerjm.com