TROY, Trelawny — Even as Prime Minister Andrew Holness says the rigorous public investment process needs to be reviewed in terms of consideration for emergencies such as the collapsed Troy Bridge, Member of Parliament for North West Manchester Mikael Phillips has renewed his lobby for it to be facilitated urgently.
Holness's statement was part of his contribution to the 2023/24 Budget Debate last Thursday when he said the public investment process was onerous but necessary for good governance.
"A part of the good governance that pays dividends is that we go through a very rigorous public investment process. I think that process is very useful, but it needs to be reviewed for provisions for emergencies, which we would consider the Troy Bridge to be. The process to defend it when it is obvious that this is an emergency can be very onerous and costly, but we abide by the rules we set until we can look at it and make the necessary changes," the prime minister said.
Phillips, who was not in attendance, but instead present at the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association UK workshop, told the Jamaica Observer on Monday that he has seen where changes were made before to accommodate emergency works.
"It is we who set the process — legislators and the administrators at the Ministry of Finance. I have seen in the past where the Government has gone where emergency contracts are concerned in the matter of flooding. I saw it with the breakaway of the road [in] Gordon Town; it was done within record time and those processes were in place then. [It] cannot be that you are going back for a justification for a piece of infrastructure that collapsed and you have to go back to the Ministry of Finance to justify replacing that. That is a backward step as a country," he added.
The Public Investment Appraisal Branch (PIAB), formerly the Public Investment Management Secretariat, is a branch of the Public Expenditure Division, which supports the Public Investment Management System by providing technical support and advice to the Public Investment Management Committee, thereby facilitating effective pre-investment decision-making.
Phillips is imploring that the bridge be dealt with as an emergency, as the process through the PIAB could take over a year.
"If the prime minister himself feels that it needs to be changed, then put the mechanism in place to change the rules then, when it comes to emergencies. We have gone over a year and a half already [since] the bridge has collapsed, so we are looking at two to three years before you replace a piece of infrastructure. Where does the concern of the citizens, their livelihood and the education of the children come into this?" he asked.
"We are moving too slow. Hence, why so much money went back out of the capital budget in the supplement budgets at the end of this financial year, because of the slow implementation. Putting money in the budget and then after you can't even reach the tendering stage, so you end up taking back the money. Something is wrong with how we [are] operating and then we boast at how much money is in the capital budget and you end up can't spend it by the end of the financial year," added Phillips.
Since the Troy Bridge collapsed in August 2021, schoolchildren and other residents have been using a 15-mile alternative commute for safety while some opt for makeshift methods, including a fallen tree and a zipline comprising a rope and bucket to cross the river. The risky makeshift footbridge connects residents in the neighbouring communities of Cowick Park in north-western Manchester to Troy in southern Trelawny.
Furthermore, Holness said the National Works Agency (NWA) will be constructing three new bridges at a cost of $1 billion, which will include the Troy Bridge in Trelawny, the Craigmill Bridge in Portland and the Spring Village Bridge in St Catherine.
"The NWA has already completed the designs and costs for these bridges and is now going through the public investment justification phase, before going to procurement," said Holness.