Montego Bay Perimeter Road Project must proceed with dispatchThursday, May 20, 2021
The long-awaited Montego Bay Perimeter Road Project now seems destined to proceed with the Government's decision to give the nod to the Chinese Harbour Engineering Company (CHEC) to do the work. The project was declared a national development project, which gives the Government — with the Parliament's blessing — the right to preclude certain projects from the normal procurement processes. Needless to say, the decision has spiked the ire of the Opposition — which, ironically, when it formed the Government, passed the legislation that now allows any Administration to preclude projects like these from the Public Procurement Act.
Actions do have consequences, and the Government has used its large majority in the House to proceed.
Politicians will always blow hot air and mount horses of pride when it is expedient to do so. What is not expedient is to cast doubt on the urgent need for national development projects to proceed with dispatch or to use bureaucratic procedures to injure the timely execution of such projects.
The town of Montego Bay, the island's tourist Mecca, is terribly congested. If anything, the perimeter road project will alleviate pile-up in the town and futuristically save lives once the treacherous Long Hill road is bypassed. Montegonians and other Jamaicans who frequently use that thoroughfare will not be too concerned about the fineries of governmental bureaucracy. They want to see the project done with expedition and transparency.
It was nevertheless good that the prime minister encouraged debate on the matter. This is as it should be in a democracy in which we should strive for the utmost transparency in the execution of the people's business. In this light, I concur with the National Integrity Action, whose head, Dr Trevor Munroe, has called on the Integrity Commission to ensure just this transparency and that taxpayers' money is well spent.
CHEC and none of the subcontractors working on the project should have any doubt that they are being scrutinised. I would expect the Integrity Commission's boss, Greg Christie, to give vigorous oversight to the work to be done.
Another matter that must not be lost in all the debate and chatter is that, for the first time in living memory, the Government of Jamaica is pursuing a multi-billion-dollar project without borrowed funds. The project is being undertaken solely on the back of taxpayers. This says a lot about how far we have come. In the past we would have turned to external borrowing or some domestic mechanism to procure the funds. It can be said, without any contradiction, that the heavy debt load that bedevils us can be directly attributed to the large sums of money that have been borrowed by successive governments to fund large projects. We can hardly see any lasting benefit derived from much of this borrowing. It would appear that some projects vanished in thin air or lost a great deal of money to corruption, arrogance and inefficiency. But the country was left straddled with the weight of debt repayment nonetheless.
So, it is good that we have reached the stage where we can fund multi-billion-dollar projects on our own dime. This is why it is even more important that the powers that be ensure that this money is well spent. This project may very well be a litmus test of others to come. If we fail here, confidence in future projects will be seriously undermined.
I believe, at this time, that awarding the contract to the Chinese is the most appropriate course to take. There seems to be a nascent rejection by the Opposition of the Chinese doing projects in Jamaica. But, as the prime minister advised, the Chinese, “in good faith”, had done preparatory work on the project. To send it to tender and have the Chinese rejected would be a slap in their face, if not a breach of good faith. Good faith is good currency, and its loss can be incalculable. There are just some things that money cannot buy.
I believe that the People's National Party (PNP) knows deep down that the Chinese are best placed to do the job. They should know that putting this project to tender would result in inordinate delays in getting it underway and additional expenses which have already been borne by the Chinese in scoping out the project. They would, in any event, be the front-runners, with an advantage that no other bidder would have. Furthermore, they are not strangers to this kind of project.
The Government must ensure, as the prime minister again advised the nation, that 90 per cent of the workers on the project will be Jamaican. Local firms will be subcontractors and this should result in the transfer of knowledge to these firms. We sometimes like to kid ourselves that we have the carrying capacity in the country that projects of these size demand. Sometimes we plunge ahead in a naïve assumption of patriotism or nationalism, just to be rescued when the going gets tough and serious mistakes are made. We have no time or money for these kinds of mistake or delays to be made.
The Government must proceed with dispatch with this project. It will be a great encouragement out of the pandemic malaise in which the country now finds itself.
Dr Raulston Nembhard is a priest, social commentator, and author of the books: Finding Peace in the Midst of Life's Storm and Your Self-esteem Guide to a Better Life . Send comments to the Jamaica Observer or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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