USF says it wasn't aware NESOL contracted out solar project

BY ALPHEA SAUNDERS
Observer staff reporter
saundersa@jamaicaobserver.com

Friday, September 14, 2018

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ACTING Chief Executive Officer of the Universal Service Fund (USF) Violet Badroe revealed Wednesday that the agency was not aware that National Energy Solutions Limited (NESOL) would contract a third party to carry out work which the USF had engaged NESOL to do at 19 community access point (CAP) sites.

The revelation came at a meeting of the Public Administration and Appropriations Committee (PAAC), where representatives of NESOL and the USF were questioned on the partnership between the two entities to complete a solar energy solution project at 19 CAP sites across the island.At last week's meeting of the committee, a report from the Office of the Prime Minister said that NESOL had engaged Peak Energy Solutions in a verbal contract to carry out the works. The company has already been paid more than $12 million of the $60-million contract. NESOL was paid $87.4 million under the agreement with the USF.

Badroe told the committee that following the payout to NESOL, the USF had no further involvement with NESOL on the matter, and was unaware of NESOL's engagement with Peak Energy.

“We weren't aware. When we commissioned NESOL, we weren't aware that they were going to have a third party doing the work for them. We were under the impression that NESOL would be doing the work,” she stated.

Badroe also explained that the solar project was turned over to NESOL because the USF did not have the capabilities to carry out the work. “Our mandate was to make sure that Jamaicans have access to [the] Internet and that's what we do. NESOL is engaged in installing solar, something completely different… the CAP sites were having problems with their electricity bill so it was a policy directive to equip all new CAP sites with the solar system, that's how we came about engaging NESOL,” she said.

But Opposition Spokesman on Energy Phillip Paulwell argued that the USF did in fact have those capabilities. “I see nothing in the provisioning of electrical solar systems for CAP sites that the USF couldn't manage... they procure furniture for these CAP sites, they procure computers, they procure air conditioning, why would the USF outsource to NESOL, a related company, the provisioning for solar? That, to me, is begging a further question,” he said.

Former managing director of NESOL, Carolyn Warren, along with Board Chairman Oswald Williams; former CEO of the USF Camille Buchanan and Board Chairman Robert Lawrence, all wrote to inform the PAAC that they were unable to attend Wednesday's meeting, due to prior engagements. They also said that the notices were too short. PAAC Chairman Dr Wykeham McNeill said another invitation would be extended with two weeks' notice.

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