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OCG exec files affidavit backing Christie

BY PAUL HENRY Crime/Court desk co-ordinator henryp@jamaicaobserver.com

Tuesday, July 10, 2012    

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AN official at the Office Contractor General (OCG) has said in a court document that Contractor General Greg Christie was merely conducting his statutory duty when he sought to probe the activities of the Independent Oversight Panel (IOP) set up by the Government to oversee the pre-contract phase of three US multi-million dollar development projects.

The backing of Christie came last Friday in the form of an affidavit filed in the Supreme Court by Craig Beresford, the senior director of monitoring operations, corporate communications and special projects in the OCG.

The affidavit was in response to an application filed by the Ministry of Transport, Works and Housing seeking a Judicial Review of Christie's decision to probe the oversight panel.

The application for Judicial Review is scheduled for hearing today.

"...it is the view of the Office of the Contractor General that, as an independent anti-corruption commission of Parliament of Jamaica, the contractor general has a statutory duty and mandate to maintain oversight of the pre-contract and post-contract stages of the works contemplated and referred to by Minister [Omar] Davies, and in relation to which the Independent Oversight Panel has been appointed," said Beresford in his affidavit.

Beresford said the OCG was of the view that the panel would be in a position to provide information about the tender procedures "or absence of the same", among other things relating to contractual agreement.

He said the OCG was "fortified" of the need to "monitor and investigate" the process based on "matters that have transpired" prior to Davies' announcement of the formation of the panel during a sitting of Parliament in April.

Among these factors, according to the affidavit, are the engagement of the Government in negotiations with Chinese company China Harbour regarding the north-south link of Highway 2000, which arose out of an alleged unsolicited proposal "and not out of an open, transparent and competitive international tender process; [and] conflicting assessment of the commercial viability of the project".

Beresford outlined what he said was another difficulty: "The OCG is of the view that in the absence of a detailed comparable estimate there is no sufficient basis upon which the said construction cost can be predicated, given the possibility, inter alia, for unforeseen geotechnical issues. Consequently, it will be difficult to determine whether value for money can be achieved and the basis upon which a 50-year toll concession can be granted."

The ministry is seeking Judicial Review of the contractor general's decision to monitor and investigate the IOP, which Cabinet set up in April to oversee the negotiation process of the North-South Toll Highway Project, the Fort Augusta Port Project and the Gordon Cay Expansion Project.

The ministry is expected today to also apply for an interlocutory injunction restraining the contractor general from continuing to monitor and investigate the activities of the panel and from taking steps against the members of the panel for failure to comply with request for information.

If granted, the injunction will remain in place pending the outcome of the application for Judicial Review.

The ministry is also seeking to prevent Christie from issuing any further media releases in respect of the "establishment and activities of the IOP", pending the outcome of the hearing.

The ministry is asking for several declarations from the court, including that the panel, being a voluntary advisory body, is not subject to the monitoring and investigative oversight of the contractor general pursuant to Sections 4 and 15 of the Contractor General Act; and that the Act does not empower the contractor general to monitor the activities of a voluntary advisory body not engaged under any Government contract of having the authority to award or implement Government contracts or to grant, issue, suspend or revoke any prescribed licence.

Davies said in an affidavit filed in the Supreme Court last month that the panel was set up to "provide transparency and governance oversight of the process of negotiating the legal and commercial arrangements" for the projects in the event that a decision is made by the Government to enter into contractual arrangements with two Chinese companies — China Harbour Engineering Corporation and CMA CGM — to undertake the work.

The Jamaica Information Service reported on June 22 that China Harbour was contracted to undertake the north-south leg of the highway.

The panel members consist of Professor Gordon Shirley, principal of the University of the West Indies, Mona; R Danny Williams, and Everton McDonald, retired territorial senior partner of PricewaterhouseCoopers.

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