Contractor General Greg Christie, the anti-corruption czar, has delivered a mighty last blow against corruption in Jamaica and the state for its refusal to strengthen his hand to fight corruption and irregularities in the award of contracts. He already has enormous powers, but corruption and irregularities in government are so pervasive that he wanted additional powers.
Attorney-at-law Christie has refused requests from the private sector and indeed from his own dedicated staff to stay on after his seven-year contract expires at the end of the month. He is leaving.
The contractor general is mandated by law to monitor the award and implementation of government contracts to ensure, among other things, that they are awarded impartially and on merit, and in circumstances which do not involve impropriety and irregularity.
In addition, he is empowered under the law to, at his discretion, conduct formal investigation into matters that are associated with the award of contracts, the issue of government licences, tender procedure and registration of government contractors.
After a year in the job Christie acted so impartially and with so much fervour that some contractors who supported the PNP government were heard to remark that the government had appointed the wrong man as contractor general.
In his final 2011 annual report, Christie expressed frustration with the lack of action by government on some of his recommendations. He said: "I must confess that I have become extremely despondent about the deafening silence of our leaders, both within and without the political divide, and the vacuous absence of the "political will" that is now desperately required to decisively combat corruption in Jamaica, and to empower and support the Office of the Contractor General in its efforts to ensure that its mandates are effectively discharged... The political will of which I speak requires the state, led by the incumbent administration, to take the requisite steps to ensure that good governance structures are compliant with international best practices, as well as a comprehensive and independent anti-corruption institution framework are firmly set in place."
He continues: "Corruption erodes the quality of life of the society. It denies the poor access to basic entitlements such as water, electricity, roads, health care, electricity, housing and education. Corruption leads to human rights violations, hijacks political elections and reduces investor confidence in the country. And corruption also undermines critical public institutions and enables organised crime and other threats to human security to flourish. Given the magnitude of its alarming and corrosive effects, the issue of corruption is therefore something which should not be treated lightly."
The country can feel proud of the work of the OCG during the seven years Christie has been in the job. With all his disappointment it can be said that the contractor general gave an extraordinary performance over the period. A national poll which was commissioned by the independent National Integrity Action Ltd and conducted by Don Anderson-Market Reserve Services in November 2011 in 180 communities islandwide, among seven leading law enforcement agencies, ranked the OCG as having earned the highest level of public satisfaction in the fight against corruption in the island.
The accomplishments of the OCG during the year have been outstanding. The agency monitored more than 11,000 contracts in 2011, with 1,092 of these having been monitored on a sustained basis. This contrasts with a maximum of 350 contracts monitored on an annual basis prior to 2005 when Christie took office. With respect to investigations during the last seven years, the OCG has completed 58 special investigations, 40 inquiries and 24 audits, compared to two investigations that were conducted during the three-year period prior to 2005.
Over the past year the OCG has significantly reduced the high incidence of fraud in the government contractor registration process. Since 2010, 80 works contractors have been removed from the National Contracts Commission's Register of Approved Contractors for falsely representing their resources and technical competence, with some having been referred to the Fraud Squad for criminal investigation and prosecution. The OCG was uncompromising despite threats of violence to the staff, including at least two death threats.
A great deal of the fraud and irregularities in the government contract award system occurred because of the failure of agencies to make regular reports. To counter this, the OCG developed and implemented the quarterly contracts award (QCA) report regime in 2006. The regime, which requires the country's 200 procuring public bodies to file quarterly reports of their contracts with the OCG, has now succeeded in registering a compliance rate of 100 per cent for the past 14 consecutive quarters. At the outset the highest compliance rate that was ever recorded by the OCG was a mere 13 per cent.
If Christie's successor can match his performance, the country will be in good hands.