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Blame now on National Contracts Commission

BY BALFORD HENRY Observer senior reporter balfordh@jamaicaobserver.com

Friday, August 24, 2012    

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THE Jamaica Association of Contractors and Consultants (JAC) yesterday left the Office of the Contractor-General (OCG), satisfied that Contractor General Greg Christie was not to be blamed for holding up their registration with the National Contracts Commission (NCC).

"We learnt today that there are documents still with the NCC which were sent to them for approval four years ago and they have not even written to the contractors. We saw those documents today," JAC Chairman Percival LaTouche told a press conference after the meeting.

The meeting was arranged by the OCG after the newly formed JAC accused the Office of the Contractor General of delaying the process of registration and re-registration, through an "onerous registration process" and inappropriate criteria to become qualified.

JAC had claimed that delays of, up to four years, were creating tremendous hardships for contractors, who are required to be registered with the NCC to access government contracts from as low as $275,000. They said that the situation was worsening with reduced opportunities for private contracts due to a weakening of the economy. But after yesterday's meeting, LaTouche and his members were singing a different tune.

"We thought that all the problems were coming from the OCG because all the letters that were written to us came on NCC letterhead but were signed by the OCG. Now that we have cleared the OCG out of the way, we are going forward now (to seek a meeting with the NCC)," he told the press conference at the Medallion Hall Hotel in Kingston.

The JAC has, in the meantime, decided to withdraw a threat of taking the OCG to court.

"If we knew then what we learnt today, we would not have threatened to take the OCG to court," LaTouche said.

He said that the JAC found that a number of irregularities in applications for registration have been picked up by the OCG since 2004. This led to a more stringent process, including one-on-one interviews with applicants. However, the JAC felt this did not account for the fact that approximately 2,000 applications from a total of 4,000 contractors were still unapproved.

LaTouche explained that they learnt that the NCC does not have staff and has to rely on the OCG's staff to do its investigative and clerical work. He said that the OCG admitted that it was short-staffed and needed more funding to do a better job. However, the bottleneck was said to be at the NCC.

The JAC chairman said he was concerned that the criteria for registration was making it very difficult for some contractors to be approved, and was also contributing to corruption in completing the application forms.

He said that the JAC will now be seeking a meeting with the NCC to ascertain why there was such a huge delay, and then on to the Ministry of Finance and Planning to seek changes in the criteria for registration.

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