Energy Minister must act now
Energy Minister Kevin Ramnarine needs to explain to the country why he continues to retain Mitra Ramkhelawan as chairman of National Quarries Limited in the face of damaging accusations swirling over his head.
The Minister’s refusal to act in a timely manner is aggravating, by the day, an already worrying state of affairs at the State-owned company. From the moment the allegation regarding the chairman’s role in the acquisition of a bulldozer and excavator came to light, Minister Ramnarine should have intervened with a view to establishing the facts, protecting evidence and preventing further damage to the company’s reputation. Instead, he claims to be awaiting the findings of an audit in order to determine what action should be taken.
The Minister’s failure to act has already created a number of additional problems that could have been prevented had he acted pro-actively.
Very correctly, CEO Sandra Fernandez reported her suspicions about the bulldozer transaction to the Fraud Squad following the Sunday Express report that broke the news. Immediately thereafter, and acting in his sole capacity in a matter from which he should have recused himself given his conflict of interest, the chairman apparently took the decision to suspend Ms Fernandez on the ground that she was not qualified for the job. In response to one director’s statement about his lack of consultation in the matter, Mr Ramkhelawan said he had “shared” the suspension with them. What exactly he means by “shared” is anyone’s guess but, given the latest resignation from the board, it is doubtful what level of confidence Mira Ramkhelawan now enjoys from the management and board of National Quarries Ltd.
The latest development in which a police officer has been transferred for alleged harassment of Ms Fernandez at her home, suggests a dangerous escalation in the matter.
Minister Ramnarine has a responsibility to act swiftly to prevent any further damage to the investigation and the image of National Quarries. Quite frankly, we cannot understand the minister’s failure to act in this matter. From the start, it was clear that Minister Ramnarine should have, at the very minimum, suspended Mr Ramkhelawan pending the outcome of a probe into the bulldozer transaction. Having failed to do so, we now have the situation of a State enterprise with its board in disarray and its CEO suspended.
Minister Ramnarine should also recognise the importance of acting with credibility in this manner. Public confidence in State boards is at a very low level given the extent to which boards appointed by the People’s Partnership Government have been plagued by bad decisions, questionable actions, allegations of impropriety and cases of falsified certification among board members. His inaction serves only to fuel public cynicism about the Government’s commitment to transparency and public accountability.
While it may already be too late, we nonetheless urge Minister Ramnarine to intervene now. Delaying an intervention on the grounds of waiting for the report of an audit is just looking for trouble.