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Azan: I have learnt vital lessons

State Minister insists that ‘red tape’ has no place in the running of a country

BY HG HELPS Editor-at-Large helpsh@jamaicaobserver.com

Sunday, February 16, 2014    

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A re-energised Richard Edward Azan has admitted that he has learnt important lessons from the controversial issues associated with the building of wooden stalls outside a market in his constituency last year.

The Member of Parliament for Clarendon North West and State Minister for Transport, Works and Housing, while acknowledging that he will always follow protocol in how he handles government matters, insists though, that bureaucracy will not stall his plans of making things happen for the people of Jamaica.

Azan, who turns 50 on June 6, quit as State Minister in mid-September last year, over his role in engaging private contractor John Bryant to build 10 shops outside the Spalding (also referred to as Spaulding and Spauldings) market, without the written permission of the Clarendon Parish Council, which he served as an elected official from 2007 to 2011.

The Contractor General, who investigated the matter, ruled that the construction of the shops was done without the approval of the council, adding that rent for the structures was set and charged, also without approval.

Contractor General Dirk Harrison suggested to the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions that it considers whether or not Azan had committed a crime, after he described the parliamentarian's actions as "politically corrupt."

Azan quit in the wake of the Contractor General's findings, but DPP Paula Llewellyn, Harrison's senior before he became Contractor General, ruled one week later that there was no basis on which to charge the popular politician with conspiracy to defraud the council.

"Whatever I am doing now, especially as it relates to the Government, everything has to be in writing," Azan told the Jamaica Observer last week.

"I don't take anything for granted again, and I will follow the process, but I will register my protest as far as the time period is concerned - how long they are taking to do things - there is still too much bureaucracy in the system (public sector).

"Things that can take a day to finish, are taking more than a month and there are cases that you can look at yourself and see that much better can be done.

"The truth is that we can do much, much better than what we are doing now and the country can move towards growth if we all come together and put in the eight hours or 10 hours a day - our country will move much faster and better and more people can get jobs.

"We talk about achieving growth in this country, but we must improve on the system that we presently have in place if we are to grow as a country," Azan said.

Azan stated that when he went on the self-imposed, two-month break last year, he spent the time to reflect on some of the things that were happening in the Jamaican political space.

The civil service, he insists, needs vital attention in terms of turning around a prevailing mentality by some, that taking long to do things was the order of the day.

"I was able to get some rest and reflect on a number of things regarding how the government operates, and how we can get to improve what's there on the books.

"As I keep saying, one of the major problems that we have is that there are people who sit in offices and their job is only to push paper. They create more red tape than create a system where other people can get jobs, because some of those who have jobs already don't think about those who don't have, and I think we have to move fast on that," the Spalding Secondary (now High) and Holmwood Technical Old Boy said.

"I learned from the system that whatsoever you are doing, there are some people in some corner who do not want things to happen, depending on who they support.

"There are some people who do things politically, and there are some people who you don't know where they stand, whether they are JLP or PNP and their job is just to hold back things," added Azan.

The Spalding businessman is still buoyed by his staff at the Ministry of Transport, Works and Housing and remains steadfast that there will still be enough support from them to get the job done in the best way possible.

"In anything that you do, some people are genuine and some are not genuine, but when I returned here at the ministry in 2012, I received the highest level of respect from the ministry and the NWA (National Works Agency) staff.

"Since my reappointment, I have received the same respect from the staff. I can't complain about their respect and their support.

"The NWA and the ministry understand my style, which is to get things done. I am not the type of person who takes a 'no' for just a 'no'. I believe that every time we have a 'no' facing us, we can find a solution for it. We all have to work together to solve all the problems that we have in the country," Azan said.

There have been rumblings that Azan and the head of his ministry, Dr Omar Davies do not enjoy a good working relationship, and that Davies objected to his returning to the ministry, but the loyalist of Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller scoffed at the suggestion.

"That's not true. I have a very close relationship with the minister. I know my role and if there is a matter that I have to discuss with the minister, I get his advice and his approval and that is how we work. If there is anything that he wants me to do, I cooperate," Azan insisted.

Azan is upbeat that despite the limited State resources, several projects will be completed during the remainder of the present fiscal year and the next.

Sharing the resources in a fair manner is also something that he emphasised, should continue.

"I can't say that everybody is happy with what we as a ministry are able to provide and do, but those from the Opposition cannot say that if they ask for assistance and we can help, that we victimise them. We treat every Member of Parliament equally and with respect," Azan said of the only ministry that he has worked, starting in 2006, four years after life in Parliament began for him, and one in which he took a break in 2007 and resumed in 2012.

"I am comfortable here at this ministry and if I were to go elsewhere, it would be the call of the Prime Minister.

"I am a person who is hands-on, whether it's in my constituency or at the ministry. I try to bridge gaps where there are gaps and see how best we may be able to resolve problems. We always try to reach a common ground on every issue that faces us," Azan said.

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