Petcom denies rule breach

15 February 2007
More legal news

15 February 2007

Jamaica's contractor-general has severely criticised the way the Petroleum Company of Jamaica (Petcom) awarded contracts.

The company has challenged the findings of the report and denied the claims made against it. Yet the office of the contractor-general (OCG) said the company's arguments were "baseless, obfuscatory and misleading".

The report, published last month by the OCG, levelled two charges.

It said the company's actions were a "clear and flagrant breach" of government procurement guidelines and that "there is merit to the allusion of a conflict of interest" regarding the involvement of the company's chair.

An investigation began following an article in a Jamaican newspaper that alleged Barbara Clarke, chairwoman of the Petcom board, had conflicting interests because she was also the majority shareholder in supplier Elegant Traders.

The firm, which supplies training services, was awarded 18 contracts at a value of nearly $4.5 million (£34, 312) in a three-and-a-half-year period, 12 of them after Clarke became the chairwoman of the board.

The report said Petcom did not state the "procurement method used for contracting these services" and Elegant Traders was not registered with the National Contracts Commission, a necessary procedure if a company wishes to tender for government work.

It insisted "significant improvements" were needed to Petcom's tender management process, to ensure transparency. It claimed the "procurement committee" and assigned procurement officer, which Petcom said were in place, could not be verified and that there was no evidence that contracts had been nationally advertised, as required by the procurement process.

It also advised the government to remove Clarke from the conflict of interest that exists.

But Desmond Thomas, general manager of Petcom, denied the claims of a conflict of interest. He told Radio Jamaica that Clarke entered into business contracts with Petcom in 1998, seven years before she joined the board. He said she told the board she wanted to continue to deal with the company when she joined.

The OCG said it stood by the findings and conclusions of its report. Greg Christie, contractor-general, said that Petcom had been given ample opportunity to substantiate the challenges, "but have failed credibly to do so".

He added: "It is the policy of the OCG not to be intimidated by, nor respond to, threats. It is prepared to and will vigorously defend its report."


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