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'Sympathise with your light bills'

Holness urges public to hold Gov't accountable on energy project

BY BALFORD HENRY Senior staff reporter balfordh@jamaicaobserver.com

Tuesday, June 10, 2014    

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OPPOSITION Leader Andrew Holness says that critics who feel that he should sympathise with the prime minister's ignorance of the details of the failing 381-megawatt project bidding process should sympathise with their light bills instead.

"Let me say something to all the sympathisers out there. To all who believe we mustn't ask questions of the prime minister, because we must sympathise: Sympathise with your light bill," Holness said.

"All the people who are now wishing and hoping that electricity prices will be reduced or become stabilised, and wishing that they will be able to stop throwing up wires and become legal customers are now looking at the Government and asking 'what are you doing'?"

Holness also stated that the Opposition Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) cannot support the Electricity Sector Enterprise Team (ESET) appointed by the Government on May 31 to rev up the stuttering 381MW project.

"I have reached the point now where I cannot support the Electricity Sector Enterprise Team," Holness said at a post-shadow cabinet meeting yesterday morning at the JLP's headquarters on Belmont Road in Kingston.

He said that the Government had set up the enterprise team, chaired by former People's National Party executive Dr Vin Lawrence, on the assumption that the revocation of the licence would be easy. He also repeated his criticism of Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller for insisting, during his questioning of her in the House of Representatives last week, that she was focusing on obtaining cheaper energy costs and not the issue of a corrupt bidding process.

"We can't claim to be a law-abiding society where the rule of law stands and people will say, 'I don't really business with the rules, all I want is to get cheaper energy'," he told the press briefing. "It is time that Jamaicans understand that we are not going to get cheaper energy unless you do it by the rules."

He said that the lesson from all of this was that the Government of Jamaica is not prepared to follow its own rules, but people from overseas and outside its borders are prepared to.

He explained that his position was based on the fact that the constituted authority -- the Office of the Contractor General (OCG) -- had produced a finding that the bidding procurement was flawed, and that the minister in charge of the process had done something wrong. However, he argued that the prime minister stood behind the minister, while the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), a foreign entity, sided with the OCG.

"The truth is that we shouldn't have to wait on the IDB to follow our own rules. Our prime minister should have been the first one to follow our rules. If that was done we wouldn't be in the position we are in today," he stated.

Holness contended that the OCG was not just "any body", but was constituted in law to pronounce upon the integrity of the contracting and procurement processes.

"And, if the OCG comes from river bottom and tell you that there is a problem, pay attention to it," he argued.

He said that, in the same way that the Government found it necessary to seek a judicial review of the OCG's decision to probe the activities of its Independent Oversight Panel in 2012, it could have done the same with the OCG's findings and recommendations on the selection of Energy World International as the preferred bidder to build the 381MW energy plant.

"The IDB respects our contractor general enough to withdraw its support; what does that say about our Government?" Holness asked.

"And all of the people who hug up this business about when people do wrong you mustn't fire them, you are going to pay for it in your light bill, you are going to pay for it in corruption," he charged.

"It is time that Jamaica sends a clear message that those who hold political authority and make critical decisions must be held accountable, and the prime minister is the ultimate accounting officer when it comes to this matter," he stated.

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