THE new administration is apparently moving with dispatch to fulfil two of the three key promises it made in Opposition on the campaign trail. Both the finance minister, Dr Peter Phillips, and the transport works and housing minister, Dr Omar Davies, have begun their tenure based on commitments given to the electorate by prime minister and People's National Party (PNP) president, Portia Simpson Miller.
Davies yesterday disclosed that his first question on reporting for office Monday was about a progress report on the controversial Jamaica Development Infrastructure Programme (JDIP), which the new Government is planning to renegotiate to provide funds for the Jamaica Emergency Employment Programme (JEEP).
A day before, Dr Phillips announced that he had engaged the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to resuscitate stalled talks on a new loan pact, possibly an Extended Fund Facility (EFF) to replace the current Stand-by Agreement. An IMF delegation is expected in the island next week to hold discussions with the Government, Phillips said.
Simpson Miller was met with widespread disbelief when she intimated that her administration would renegotiate JDIP and IMF programmes within two weeks of taking office, later clarifying that to say it would start negotiations within the fortnight.
The third big promise to remove GCT from some electricity bills was yet to get off the ground yesterday.
Energy Minister Phillip Paulwell said last night that action had not yet been taken on that, but noted that only one Cabinet meeting had been held since the new Government came to office last weekend and, in any event, it was a matter for the finance ministry.
Davies, for his part, appeared crestfallen at a press conference at his offices in Kingston yesterday when he told newsmen that the promised forensic audit into JDIP by former Prime Minister Andrew Holness in December had not yet started.
"The reality is that nothing had happened, so the permanent secretary has begun the process," Davies said in response to queries from journalists.
But he insisted that "the administration, in general, and the political directorate have every intention of having the truth [about JDIP] be put before the public".
Bringing some clarification, permanent secretary in the ministry, Audrey Sewell revealed that JDIP had been returned to the transport ministry with not much time to do the audit.
"Now that it is back in the ministry, we have started the process," she said, adding that while the forensic audit had not begun action had been taken to initiate it.
"But bear in mind, though, that the auditor general did an audit and a report is here and we are focusing on looking at all the breaches and seeking to address them," she said.
Sewell also pointed out that the contractor general was conducting an investigation into the Chinese-funded JDIP and time had been spent in December responding to specific queries.
"A lot of time has been spent responding to queries from the contractor general... and we have already submitted some responses with evidence he had requested," she said.
The PNP Government is depending on funds from JDIP to put thousands of unemployed Jamaicans back to work in the shortest possible time.
Davies said he was hoping that the JEEP would be driving sooner than later.
"I wish to give that assurance and we are going to publish the guidelines for the projects... It will be subject to assessment and viewing," he said, adding: "This is no bollo work, this is serious work."
The forensic audit had been promised by Holness at the end of an eventful week in which Mike Henry resigned as transport and works minister and his permanent secretary, Dr Alwyn Hales was sent on leave, due to troubling questions over the management of the multi-billion-dollar roadworks programme.
That came after a devastating revelation by the auditor general in November pointing to gross deficiencies in the operation of JDIP.
Yesterday, Davies said he had asked for several in-depth reports on aspects of JDIP, and indicated he wanted the answers in time to make a formal presentation to Cabinet on January 18 and a submission to Parliament shortly thereafter.
In the meantime, Minister Davies was unable to say what would be the fate of Dr Hales who went on leave immediately following the auditor general's report into JDIP and the sacking of the chief executive officer of the National Works Agency, Patrick Wong. Hales' leave is set to conclude this month end.
"Some of those decisions are not mine, per say, but an issue of the Cabinet secretary and the prime minister making that determination, so it is a bit premature to say," Davies said.