Question time uproar in the House

Inside Parliament

With Balford Henry

Monday, January 27, 2014    

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PRIME Minister Portia Simpson Miller has dismissed claims that Deputy Director General of the Office of Utilities Regulation (OUR), Maurice Charvis, was allowed to serve as interim Director General for eight months to facilitate agreement on the contract for the 360 MW project.

Simpson Miller told Opposition Leader Andrew Holness that this was "absolutely not" the case.

Holness said that Charvis' role as Interim Director of the OUR for only eight months, during which the OUR consummated the bidding process for the project, which ended with Energy World International being awarded the contract.

"There is speculation that this was done to directly facilitate the approval of the project, Madam Prime Minister, can you say that it was not the case?" Holness asked.

"Absolutely not. No way," Simpson Miller responded.

The Opposition Leader was asking a follow-up question to those tabled by Opposition MP, Gregory Mair, about the appointment of former President of the National Water Commission (NWC), Albert C Gordon, as director general of the Office of Utilities Regulation (OUR) last November 1.

Following the retirement of former director general, Ahmad Zia Mian, last year, after serving for a three-year term and a one-year extension (2009-2013), Maurice Charvis was appointed to serve as the interim director general for eight months as of February 10, 2013.

Energy World International (EWI) was selected as the preferred bidder for the project to provide 360 megawatts of power to the national grid in October, after the original preferred bidder, Azurest Cambridge, failed to meet the deadline to come up with the US$6.9 million project bond.

However, EWI had to survive severe criticisms, after Contractor General Dirk Harrison objected to the company's inclusion in the bidding process. He said that his special investigation found that EWI benefited from

what he called the "irregular and improper" intervention

of Minister of Science, Technology, Energy and Mining Phillip Paulwell. But Paulwell dismissed the claims, and maintained that the bidding process was

above board.

Negotiations between EWI and the Jamaica Public Service Company Limited (JPS) were finalised and approved by the Office of Utilities Regulation (OUR), on December 4, 2013. Construction of the plant is expected to begin early 2014 and completed within

24 months.

In response to Mair's question about the fact that Mian's second term as director general lasted only one year, the Prime Minister said that while Mian had made a significant contribution to the development of the OUR, "it was felt that the time had come for the organisation to benefit from new perspectives, and an injection of fresh energy, in order to take it towards the fulfilment of its core mandate."

She said that several months were dedicated to a search for a new director general, which ended with her recommendation to the Governor General for Gordon's appointment.

She admitted that she was responsible for limiting Mian's re-appointment to a one-year extension, after his three-year term, because she felt that it was time for new leadership at the OUR.

Opposition MP Karl Samuda asked about the "new direction" that the Prime Minister had conceived for the agency.

Simpson Miller: "It is an independent panel, so I have to be careful. I am not going to get into that aspect of it."

Samuda: "The only reason I asked, was because you said that you saw the need to move (the agency) in a new direction. I am simply asking you to indicate what is that

new direction.

Simpson Miller: "I wanted some new energy at the OUR. It is an organisation that works very hard, and it is so important to every one of us sitting in this Honourable House, on both sides, that I had to take a decision. But, I did not go on a binge of my own, and said I want A,B, D, C or E. What I did: A panel was put in place and they made the recommendation.

*** No answers were available for questions tabled by the Opposition Leader of Minister of Education, Ronald Thwaites, seeking an update on the state of safety and security being provided at government schools, islandwide.

The minister said that the answers were prepared, but Parliament had not received them. The questions were on the agenda to be answered last Tuesday.

"I regret that it appears that the clerk has not received them, and I am asking the kind indulgence of the member, to whom I have apologised. They will be available next week," Thwaites said.

Holness pointed out that there were other questions on the Question Paper directed to the Prime Minister about her foreign trips, which are also due for answers.

(This created an uproar in the House, as the Government members criticised the Opposition Leader for raising the issue.)

Holness: "What is the issue? The questions have been on the Question Paper for a very long time. I remember that we had an extended debate about giving seven days time... Oh,

I understand that the

Prime Minister will be travelling again.

(At this point, the Prime Minister rose, asserting that she would be travelling again this week).

Leader of the House Phillip Paulwell rose: "Mr Speaker, as the member can appreciate, the questions weren't only relating to the Prime Minister, but (also) to the rest of Government. So, the work is being done. I

am therefore seeking his indulgence, so that we can provide the answers

(next week)".

However, Leader of Opposition Business, Derrick Smith was not satisfied with how the Government members treated the Opposition Leader when he asked about the answers.

Smith: "Mr Speaker, I just thought that I would note a situation that I am very uncomfortable with (more shouts interrupted him) ... This is a serious House. It is not a House for clowns. I notice that when the Leader of the Opposition is on his feet, there is continuous heckling from across that side. (More

loud shouts, as the

Speaker pounding his gavel

without notice)

Smith (continues): "Mr Speaker, when the Prime Minister is on her feet, she deserves the full attention of the House and we commit ourselves to show her the respect that is due ... I am warning that if the Leader of the Opposition does not get that type of respect.

Government member: "What happen?"

Smith: "What will happen? You will find out."





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