The NWA and the JDIPMonday, November 28, 2011
ONE of the things that marred the government of the People's National Party during the more than 18 years it was in office, was the alarming cost overruns on government projects, especially road construction which was a gravy train for some party supporters. Two of the expensive cost overruns involved the North Coast Highway which escalated from US$25 million to US$75 million and the Montego Bay to Ocho Rios Highway which increased from US$60 million to US$176 million. In one particular case, a road which was included in a programme and on which work was purportedly done never existed. This does not mean that the PNP Opposition should not question cost overruns. It has a right to do so on behalf of the people of Jamaica. If the JLP while in Opposition soft-pedalled on such matters, that was its business.
One expected that under the Jamaica Labour Party government which replaced the People's National Party government in 2007, the apparent gravy train would stop. But not so. There have been some alarming overruns on government projects under the Jamaica Development Infrastructure Programme (JDIP). Here are two examples of massive cost overruns under the present government. The Cassia Park bridge which was estimated to cost $52.4 million in 2005, is now being constructed at a cost of $154.2 million. The Queensborough bridge, estimated to cost $45.5 million in 2005 is now estimated to cost $183.7 million. There are two factors to be considered in these cases: low bid by contractors at first in order to get the job and then increasing costs after work has begun, or inflation. This has been happening for many years.
Notwithstanding, the cost overruns seemed high and the country anxiously awaits the report of the independent investigative body, set up by Prime Minister Andrew Holness to probe all of the JDIP projects. In the meantime, Holness has removed the JDIP from the Ministry of Transport and Works to the Office of the Prime Minister and has set up an investigative body to review the programme. The review is due to be completed in another two weeks. This is where the policy of the present government differs from that of the past PNP government. It does not allow matters to slide, but acts quickly and firmly. It is a good sign for the future.
One of the most amazing aspects of the whole JDIP affair is that the National Works Agency used the sole- source method to award a $102-million contract to the China Harbour Engineering Company to refurbish its headquarters without the approval of the National Contracts Commission. This method of awarding such contracts has been done before. What is alarming is that the money was used by the NWA to refurbish its own offices when there are so many life-threatening roads in the country in need of repair. The refurbishing of the office could have waited and the money put aside for the repair of such roads which carry heavy traffic like the Stony Hill Road. At the centre of the corner of Red Gal Ring there has been a hole about 12 inches deep and 36 inches in diameter for more than six months. Further up the road there are a number of places with huge potholes across the road for more than six months and they have caused several accidents. Up in Sherbourne Heights whenever the central government's main road from Stony Hill to Guava Gap is blocked by landslides, traffic uses Sherbourne Drive and Baden Powell Road, both KSAC roads, to and from Stony Hill to Guava Gap. This has caused heavy damage to the roads which citizens have to maintain, because neither the NWA nor the KSAC has repaired them for the past 15 years. Representation to the Ministry of Transport and Works was said to be brushed aside by Patrick Wong, former chief executive officer of the NWA.
Wong forced to resign
The auditor general, Pamela Monroe Ellis, a fearless professional, has lashed both the Ministry of Transport and Works and the NWA for not executing the JDIP in a transparent manner. Seriously, she reported that the NWA did not provide documents to inform the audit of the negotiation of individual contract prices under the JDIP. Also capital project planning, monitoring and record keeping were inadequate .Minister Mike Henry must shoulder some of the blame for what took place. He has been a minister for a long time and should have known that such projects require his oversight, like Edward Seaga did when he was prime minister. It was not surprising that Wong was forced to resign by the government.
There was a welcome development last week when Senior Resident Magistrate Judith Pusey fined Wong $10,000 after he pleaded guilty to two counts for breaching the Contractor General Act. He was summoned to court following a ruling by the director of public prosecutions after he was accused of failing to answer a lawful request by the contractor general in relation to the award of contracts by the NWA to contractors in St Catherine.
This case really illustrates that the NWA or any organisation, or civil servant for that matter, should not fool around with the Contractor General Act.
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