ATTORNEY-AT-LAW Delano Franklyn yesterday lashed Jamaica Observer columnist Ken Chaplin for suggesting that the Government breached state procurement guidelines in respect of the controversial Jamaica Emergency Employment Programme (JEEP).
“How could Mr Chaplin — who, on many occasions, even without prompting, informs his readers how many years he has been practising journalism — have written these words without seeking to substantiate his statement,” said Franklyn, the former People’s National Party (PNP) senator and junior minister for foreign affairs.
He challenged Chaplin to provide evidence for his April 3, 2012 accusation or withdraw it, in a lengthy statement, edited excerpts of which follow:
“The Jamaica Emergency Employment Programme initiated by the People's National Party is, if not one of, certainly the most talked about employment programme to be initiated by a government in Jamaica's modern political history. This is understandable in light of the extraordinary unemployment situation which currently exists. This situation took a turn for the worse when approximately 100,000 persons lost their jobs under the last government. It was, therefore, not surprising when then Opposition Leader Portia Simpson Miller announced the programme in September 2011 at the PNP's Annual Conference that, the entire country honed in on the JEEP.
As was then outlined by Mrs Simpson Miller, the JEEP is 'one of the strategies that the Government of Jamaica will implement to respond to the chronic unemployment status of some Jamaicans, particularly those in the lower socioeconomic stratum, persons with special needs, those with low skills and those from under-served communities'.
At that time, the party announced it would use, when in government, 25% of the amount allocated to the Jamaica Development Infrastructure Programme (JDIP) to fund JEEP. That would be the equivalent of US$100m, to be buttressed by an allocation from the Tourism Enhancement Fund (TEF).
Having taken the reins of government after the December 29, 2011 elections, and the implementation of the JEEP being assigned by the Prime Minister Simpson Miller to the Ministry of Transport, Works and Housing, led by Minister Omar Davis, it was discovered that of the US$400m loan from China for the JDIP, US$209.6m had been certified by the previous Government for payment up to December 2011, and US$188.5M had been issued for new work orders, thus leaving an uncommitted balance of only approximately US$2m.
In light of this revelation, the Government had to recalibrate its approach to the financing of the JEEP. This it did while paying special attention to the rules and regulations which determine the procedures to be followed in how government funds are spent. In order to fulfil its promise, the Government set about re-scoping some of the projects under the JDIP, resulting in US$50m being identified to fund JEEP-type activities of which some US$10m was made available for immediate utilisation.
In a ministry paper tabled in Parliament in February of this year by the Government, it clearly outlined the immediate implementation of projects and programmes at a cost of $1.2b from five ministries which will result in the employment of over 5,000 persons.
a) 815 persons who will benefit from a two-week orientation programme facilitated by the National Youth Service. In addition, another 100 persons would be recruited by HEART/NTA as part of an apprenticeship programme leading to certification.
b) 1,600 persons who will be employed at a cost $860m covering jobs such as cleaning of gullies and drains, bushing of roads, sidewalk repairs, installation of traffic signs, patching of potholes and the construction of river training structures.
c) Over 100 persons who, at a cost of $150m, will be employed to clean up the resort areas.
d) An additional 850 persons who will be employed at a cost of $40.5m to undertake two labour market intervention projects.
e) Over 1,600 persons who will be employed in projects including honey production, banana and plantain resuscitation, turmeric industry development and ginger resuscitation at a cost of $170.6m.
The expenditure for the above projects will be financed as outlined below: China Harbour, JDIP re-scoped $731m; Petro Caribe grant
$234.30m; Ministry of Education (HEART TRUST/NTA) $21m; Ministry of Labour and Social Security $40.50m; and Ministry of Tourism and Entertainment $150m, representing a total of $1.18b.
This $1.18b was included in the Supplementary Estimates for the Financial Year 2011/12, and is for the first phase of the programme. Another $6.2b has been identified for the second phase of the programme which will be implemented in the fiscal year 2012/13. This will be outlined in more detail during the upcoming budget debate.
It is intended, however, that funding for the second phase will include contributions from the National Housing Trust; PetroCaribe; the Ministry of Youth and Culture; the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries; the Ministry of Education; the Ministry of Water, Land, Environment and Climate Change, and the Ministry of Tourism and Entertainment.
Setting an extremely bad precedent
It is very clear that the magnitude, scope, and inter-agency nature of the JEEP required the involvement of numerous persons at the administrative levels in all the relevant government departments and ministries. In order for this to happen smoothly and seamlessly, it requires central coordination. Hence, the need for the establishment of a small secretariat under the direction of a project director who has responsibility for the overall direction, co-ordination, and ensuring that implementation is consistent with the Government's strategy, commitment and goals.
The Government, while dealing with the challenges of the financing of JEEP, also has to consistently address the administration of the programme. This includes keeping all the relevant persons in the loop at every stage of the implementation of the programme.
The permanent secretary (PS) in the Ministry of Transport, Works, and Housing was, therefore, quite within her right, as is the case with every PS in every ministry, to write to her minister seeking clarification about the programme based on information which was in the public domain. What was wrong was that the private and confidential letter was released to the public, setting an extremely bad precedent regarding written confidential communication between, and among, public officials, especially between a PS and his or her minister.
Not surprisingly, Ken Chaplin, in an article titled, 'JEEP runs up against red light', published in the Jamaica Observer on April 3, 2012 without offering one scintilla of evidence wrote, 'unfortunately, JEEP seemed to have breached government procurement guidelines'.
He qualified his remarks by stating that it 'seems', then went on to make a most damming accusation by saying that the Government has breached its 'procurement guidelines'.
How can the request by the PS for additional information lead Mr Chaplin to conclude that the Government has breached its 'procurement guidelines'? How can the request by the contractor general for additional information regarding the JEEP, lead Mr Chaplin to conclude that the Government has breached its own, 'procurement guidelines'?
Mr Chaplin, in the interest of balance, objectively and honestly must bring to our attention the section or sections of the procurement guidelines which have been breached by the Government. Mr Chaplin must provide us with the evidence of the PS in the ministry saying that the procurement guidelines have been breached. Mr Chaplin must provide us with the evidence that the contractor general has said that, in the case of JEEP, the procurement guidelines have been breached. If Mr Chaplin is unable to provide us with this information he should withdraw his baseless accusation.