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Fuel price drop causes $269.5-m loss at Petrojam

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Fuel price drop causes $269.5-m loss at Petrojam

BY ALPHEA SAUNDERS
Senior staff reporter
saundersa@jamaicaobserver.com

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

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THE State-owned oil refinery Petrojam suffered estimated losses of $269.5 million as a result of the $2.00 per litre it gave up in fuel prices on the local market between November 2016 and January 2017, Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee (PAC) was told yesterday.

According to a submission by the oil refinery, the net results of the reduction during the week of November 24 – 30 alone caused the company to give up an estimated $42.5 million in revenue.

The reduction was implemented on instructions of the Percival Badahoo Singh-led board, which was effected by then General Manager Floyd Grindley without the consensus of the refinery’s pricing committee, according to information presented to the PAC yesterday.

The price reduction was specifically for that week. However, a similar position to that of November 24-30, 2016 was also taken for the period December 8, 2016 to January 11, 2017, in respect to the pricing strategy, which resulted in additional revenue losses, according to a submission signed by Petrojam’s general manager, Winston Watson.

Opposition PAC member Mikael Phillips, Manchester North West Member of Parliament, who highlighted the matter yesterday, sought answers for the rationale in implementing the $2.00 price reduction again on December 8,2016, saying that this decision could not have been taken in isolation by the former general manager.

Manager for logistics and marketing at Petrojam Michael Hewitt told the committee that it was not in keeping with the normal direction, but there was a decision-making process that was followed and that was the result. There was a sense that that was the direction that was desired, he said.

At a previous meeting of the PAC, Opposition member and St Mary Central MP Morais Guy questioned whether the pricing committee could be influenced by the board of directors, and was told by Watson that in theory it was possible, but that this was not the practice. Guy then presented an e-mail exchange between the former board chairman and Watson, over instructions issued by the board on November 23, 2016 to drop fuel prices by $2.00 per litre.

“The board of directors has carefully considered the present trends in the local fuel market. There has been much dialogue from marketing companies on the matter, as such there is a need to regain confidence with our customers. After detailed evaluation analysis, the board hereby instructs that a reduction in ex-refinery price of JMD $2.00 be placed on gasolene, diesel and ULSD. This should be put into effect for this week, should you need clarification please contact me,” the email, which was read into the records by PAC Chairman Mark Golding yesterday, stated.

Watson explained at a previous sitting that initially there was pushback against the instructions issued by Badahoo Singh. “We said you as an individual cannot instruct us to do that; we told him it couldn’t be done unless the instructions came not from him but from the board and that is why he copied the directors, including the Venezuelans, because we were pushing back on that comment,” he said..

Hewitt also said the intervention was a “very unusual” one, stressing that ex-refinery prices were usually aligned with the market. “In this situation, where a move would have been recommended outside of that rule, it would have been extraordinary,” he said.

Since the issue came to light some weeks ago, it was alleged that the fuel prices were strategically dropped days before the November 2016 local government elections to influence outcomes at the polls.

In her findings on the comprehensive audit of Petrojam, Auditor General Pamela Monroe Ellis noted that in arriving at a final weekly ex-refinery price, Petrojam’s pricing committee applied a market adjustment in its pricing formula. But she said that owing to the absence of minutes for meetings of the committee, her auditors were not able to determine whether the market adjustment was always determined in a transparent manner.

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Electronic Business Registration Form (eBRF) aiding public sector reform

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Electronic Business Registration Form (eBRF) aiding public sector reform

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

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Principal director of the Public Sector Transformation and Modernisation (PSTM) Programme, Office of the Cabinet, Wayne Robertson says the recently launched Electronic Business Registration Form (eBRF) will help Jamaica to improve its ranking on the World Bank’s Doing Business report index.

The island is ranked at 75 among 190 economies, according to the 2018 Doing Business report.

Robertson said the PSTM programme at its core focuses on improving efficiencies within the public sector, in terms of operational activities.

“We want to make processes simple, so we carried out business process re-engineering and worked with the ministries, departments and agencies to build capacities generally, training workers — looking at their operations, and making recommendations,” he explained.

“We cannot frustrate the persons who do business with the Government; we must make it easier to do business. We have to look at the data and ensure that we are listening to our clients, because we also have feedback mechanisms that guide us accordingly,” he said.

Robertson noted that information and communications technology (ICT), which is another PSTM objective, has been critical to all of the project’s operations, including eBRF.

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To Prof With Love

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To Prof With Love

Wednesday Social

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

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Sybil Waller Friday, last, hosted a celebratory dinner in honour of her son Professor Lloyd Waller’s promotion to Professor of Digital Transformation Policy and Governance, The University of the West Indies (UWI), Mona Campus.

Family, friends and colleagues gathered inside the Pavillion at the Terra Nova All-Suite Hotel and awaited the man of the hour who arrived dressed in a green and white Bill Edwards shirt. The light blush-fabric, which draped the suite, added easy charm to the dcor and mimicked the cool atmosphere on the outside.

Waller’s BFF, Professor Donna Hope, officially started the evening’s proceedings with a playful game of tattletale. Shortly after, Andrew Holness, prime minister of Jamaica, along with a few members of his Cabinet, joined the evening’s festivities.

PM Holness — who was first introduced to Waller’s work when he used one of his texts as a reference whilst completing a master’s programme and later used said text as part of a presentation to Parliament — described Waller as “representative of the new breed of academics”. “Academics should not be kept in the university, it is very important that the new breed of academics take their knowledge and use it to support the development of the country,” said Holness. “I think what Lloyd has done is worthy of praise and commendation,” He also took the opportunity to thank Waller for assisting the Government with its review and subsequent reimaging in 2012 after taking a loss at the polls a year prior, a courtesy he admited was seven years late but right on time. Holness dubbed Waller “our leading academic mind on issues to do with e-governance” and said Waller’s work will be very important in guiding Jamaica in the decades to come.

Prayer from Waller’s cousin, Yolande Whitely, preceded an emotional tribute from his mother, Sybil, who spoke to his early struggles with education and highlighted his many achievements over the years.

Tributes continued, with heartfelt expressions from Professor Anthony Harriot and Minister of Tourism Edmund Bartlett. Minister of Energy, Science and Technology Fayval Williams spoke on behalf of the eGov family, where Prof Waller is board chairman.

Recording artiste Nadine Sutherland — who met Professor Waller while earning her Master’s degree in cultural studies at UWI — serenaded guests with her rendition of Etta James’ At Last prior to delivering her Billboard hit, Action.

More tributes followed from Professor Ian Boxill; Minister of Transport and Mining Robert Montague and Professor Densil Williams, as guests enjoyed dinner in-between sips of Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc.

In his own remarks, Waller spotlighted his struggles during his formative years and his ‘aha’ moment when his mother — in tears said, “I stop being a mother when I stop believing in you and I will never stop being that.” He’s not looked back! “Every dollar I get, I give back 50 per cent to the universe because someone always needs some help,” he said.

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Study links fluoridated water during pregnancy to lower IQ

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Study links fluoridated water during pregnancy to lower IQ

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

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WASHINGTON, DC, United States (AFP) — A study published Monday linked consumption of fluoridated tap water during pregnancy to lower IQ scores in infants, a finding at odds with decades of public health messaging extolling the mineral’s benefits in reducing cavities.

Several outside experts expressed concern over the research’s methodology and questioned its conclusions, though some found the results compelling enough to merit further investigation.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) named community water fluoridation one of 10 great public health achievements of the 20th century because of its contribution to the steep decline in tooth cavities in the United States over several decades.

But although high levels of fluoride have been found to be toxic to rat brains, the concentrations seen in fluoridated tap water are deemed safe.

“We realised that there were major questions about the safety of fluoride, especially for pregnant women and young children,” Christine Till, an associate professor at Canada’s York University and the paper’s senior author told AFP, adding it was important to base decisions on evidence.

The study, published in the influential JAMA Paediatrics journal, analysed data from 512 mother-child pairs across six Canadian cities, with about 40 per cent living in communities supplied with fluoridated municipal water.

After controlling for other toxins in their analysis, they found that an increase in concentration of fluoride in pregnant mothers’ urine of one milligram per litre was associated with a 4.5-point lower IQ score in boys — but not girls — at age three or four.

When estimating the daily maternal fluoride intake instead of fluoride in urine, they found a one milligram increase in intake was associated with a deficit of 3.7 IQ points for both boys and girls.

US and Canadian health authorities recommend capping fluoride concentration at 0.7 milligrams per litre (parts per million) to prevent fluorosis, overexposure to fluoride that leads to mild tooth discolouration.

But the actual levels that will be ingested will vary according to how much a person drinks.

According to the CDC, fluoridated water is supplied to nearly three in four Americans (more than 211 million people), while Health Canada estimates 39 per cent of its population receives water from fluoridated supplies.

Anticipating controversy, the journal took the unusual step of issuing an editor’s note that said the decision to publish was “not easy” and that it had been subject to additional scrutiny.

Experiments in water fluoridation began in the early 20th century, and over time its opponents came to be seen as quacks: The 1964 satirical film Dr Stranglove features an unhinged general who believes fluoridation is a Communist conspiracy against the US.

Till said that she herself had not been convinced when a graduate student first approached her with the idea to investigate the effects on IQ, but has since come around.

“We’ve had many moments in history where we got new knowledge and changed decisions: Look at thalidomide and look at recommendations for hormone replacement therapy,” which was once advised for all menopausal women, she said.

But experts in fields ranging from statistics to toxicology to neuroscience expressed reservations.

“The key words in the paper are ‘higher levels’,” said Oliver Jones, an environmental chemist at Australia’s RMIT University, who noted that fluoride intake appeared to be below one milligram per litre for most people in the study.

He nevertheless called the work “interesting” and said it justified future research — a conclusion shared by David Bellinger, an epidemiologist at Harvard University who told AFP the results were “highly credible” but would need to be replicated before policy changes were in order.

But Stuart Ritchie, a psychologist at King’s College London, said it was “inconsistent” that the study’s first analysis only found a significant result for boys and not girls, while the second analysis found an overall effect with no sex differences, and deemed the findings “pretty weak”.

Critics of water fluoridation argue it is unnecessary because modern dental products like toothpaste contain fluoride, while 97 percent of European residents receive unfluoridated water without a major impact on their dental health.

Pamela Den Besten, a professor of orofacial science at UC San Francisco told AFP that while she remained in favour of fluoride for its dental benefits, it acts on teeth topically and concerns over its presence in drinking water should not be dismissed.

“My bias, given the findings of this and other studies, is to focus on the delivery of fluoride through strategies that do not require the fluoride to be ingested,” she said.

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