WE understand and empathise with the Government’s position on the three major infrastructure projects outlined by Transport and Works Minister Dr Omar Davies in Parliament this week.
Essentially, the Administration has said it will go ahead with the projects despite the contractor general's position that unsolicited proposals should be open to competitive tender.
According to Dr Davies, the projects — the North-South Link of Highway 2000, the South Terminal/Gordon Cay Container Transshipment Hub, and the Fort Augusta Container Terminal — were proposed “within a strategic investment window”. That window, he explained, opened at a time of increased need to strengthen the road infrastructure to spur development; the Government having limited ability to incur additional debt; and when international shipping has become increasingly competitive as ports worldwide try to position for the potential benefits of the expanded Panama Canal in 2014.
Dr Davies also explained that opening the private intentions of the foreign investors in the projects to competitive tender posed the risk of Jamaica losing these investments to rival destinations. Therefore, the Cabinet took the decision to move forward with the projects.
Based on Dr Davies’ statement, the three projects were approved by the Cabinet in the previous Government which, it appears, placed them on pause because of the concerns raised by the Office of the Contractor General (OCG).
Given that the OCG was established as an independent anti-corruption commission of Parliament mandated to “ensure probity, impartiality, merit, propriety and regularity” in the Government’s contracting and licensing processes, we cannot fault the previous Administration’s respect for that office.
At the same time, we understand the importance of the three projects to the country’s development and, as such, the Government’s desire to see them implemented, especially given the associated factor of timing.
However, Dr Davies runs the risk of undermining the authority of the OCG by the establishment of his Independent Oversight Panel to monitor the projects.
No one can challenge the integrity of the three members of the panel named by Dr Davies. We also do not doubt that they will ensure that the country gets value for money, and guarantee that Government procurement procedures are upheld.
However, the minister, we believe, has unwittingly placed these three gentlemen in an uncomfortable position, as they are now being asked to perform one of the functions for which the OCG was established.
Dr Davies’ boss, Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller, was very clear in her support for the OCG in the National Leadership Debate leading up to the December 29, 2011 General Election.
So strong was her support that Mrs Simpson Miller pledged to strengthen the Office of the Contractor General and other institutions to ensure that there is accountability and transparency in the implementation of Government projects.
A Cabinet led by her should be guided by that pledge in relation to all Government projects.