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'God' returns

Vin Lawrence to head oversight team for 381MW project

BY BALFORD HENRY Senior staff reporter balfordh@jamaicaobserver.com

Wednesday, May 07, 2014    

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OVERSIGHT of the Government's troubled 381 megawatt project is being turned over to an enterprise team headed by Dr Vin Lawrence, the man who up to the mid-2000s was the most powerful non-elected official in successive People's National Party (PNP) governments which earned him the moniker 'God'.

Lawrence's appointment was announced yesterday by embattled Energy Minister Phillip Paulwell, who told Parliament that he would no longer have responsibility for the controversial project.

Paulwell, who has attracted heavy flak for his handling of the licensing phase of the power plant, said the Government has declared it a large-scale major project and promised that Jamaicans can still expect significantly cheaper electricity rates by 2016, despite the Cabinet's revocation of the licence he had granted to Hong Kong-based Energy World International last month.

Paulwell told the House of Representatives that, in addition to Lawrence -- a civil and geotechnical engineer and former PNP treasurer-- the six-member enterprise team will also include two nominees from the private sector and will be mandated to have the project implemented by 2016.

"That timing is sacrosanct, and the country will receive regular reports from the team," Paulwell added.

The announcement was made to a packed Gordon House gallery, including many former MPs, senators and councillors, a large crowd of Paulwell supporters seated in the gallery and a much larger group carrying banners supporting him outside on Duke Street celebrating another obvious exoneration.

In January 2002, then Prime Minister P J Patterson decided against sacking Paulwell for his role in the NetServ fiasco, describing the technology minister's actions as "exuberance" rather than "wilful or callous neglect".

At the time, Paulwell was being raked over the coals by the Opposition Jamaica Labour Party for disbursing $180 million to information technology firm NetServ without matching equity.

Yesterday, Paulwell also announced that Lawrence would chair a negotiating team to follow through on the MOU signed between the Government and Xinfa Group Company, one of China's top three aluminium firms, which is looking at taking over the former Reynolds Mines in Lydford, St Ann.

The announcement triggered the response from Opposition spokesman on finance and planning, Audley Shaw, that "God come back". Fellow Opposition spokesman Karl Samuda suggested Lawrence was "God reincarnated".

At the time when Lawrence served as PNP treasurer he was chairman of the Urban Development Corporation, then the richest and most powerful government agency in the country. He also chaired the boards of Air Jamaica, the Bauxite and Alumina Trading Company, Jamaica Bauxite Mining, Petroleum Corporation of Jamaica, Petrojam, Clarendon Alumina Production (CAP).

But even though he was regarded as the most powerful public sector boss and likened to 'god' by his critics, the hard-nosed Lawrence fell from grace and resigned as treasurer of the PNP, as well as from all the boards he had been appointed to by the Government, following what was described as "damning" criticisms from then Contractor General Greg Christie on his role in the Sandals Whitehouse hotel project in July 2006.

Lawrence's resignations were said then to have confirmed reports, which were being carried in the press, that he had been asked to step down from all State boards in the wake of the contractor general's allegations of breaches of the procurement procedures.

Lawrence responded that he had always planned to retire by 60, which he turned that year.

However, seven years later he was credited with teaming with his old colleagues Patterson and Alston Stewart to engineer the PNP's victory in the December 2011 General Election. He also returned to prominence in 2012 in the public sector as chairman of CAP.

Lawrence heads his own companies — Gentech Consultants Ltd, Jamaica Engineering and Technical Services Ltd, Gentech Exploration Services Ltd, and Lawrence and Associates.

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