(Jamaica Observer) Contractor General Greg Christie has labelled the Administration’s establishment of an Independent Oversight Panel (IOP) to oversee three major projects “as a brazen but futile attempt to usurp, undermine and circumvent the lawful government contract monitoring authority and mandate” of his office.
Christie’s rebuke came yesterday, following Tuesday’s announcement of the setting up of the IOP, which the Government said was to strengthen the existing monitoring framework of three major infrastructure projects — the North-South Link of Highway 2000, the Gordon Cay Container Trans-shipment Hub, and the Fort Augusta Container Terminal.
Transport and Works Minister Dr Omar Davies, making the disclosure in Parliament, said the panel was established as part of Government’s response to the concerns raised by Christie as it related to the first two projects.
The contractor general had argued, before the change of Government last December that the direct negotiations could lead to engagement of the parties through contractual arrangements. He was also not pleased with the proposed developments not being open to competitive tender.
On Tuesday, the new People’s National Party Administration said, after due consideration of the “enormous potential impact of the projects to the economy, Cabinet took the decision to advance the projects in a manner consistent with good governance and transparency”.
The Government’s position was supported by some members of the Opposition.
But in a strongly worded statement yesterday, Christie said the “OCG takes strong offence and exception to any suggestion that is made that by virtue of the discharge of its lawful mandates under the Contractor General Act, as is prescribed by the Parliament of Jamaica, and which it is sworn to do, it is impeding economic growth and development in Jamaica”.
He added: “The OCG wishes to be clear that it will not be intimidated or placed into fear or inaction by any person or authority from dispassionately discharging its sworn statutory responsibilities under the Contractor General Act.”
He said the Government’s conduct “would suggest that it is not prepared to abide by the rule of law, but to govern, instead, by arbitrary executive edict, as it has set in place its own hand-picked civilian oversight panel to obviously ‘overrule’ or supplant the country’s leading Independent Anti-Corruption Commission”.
Said Christie: “This is a retrograde step in the fight against corruption in Jamaica, a country which for the past 10 years has been consistently ranked by Transparency International as one of the most corrupt countries in the Western Hemisphere. It is the thin edge of the wedge which could potentially portend what is to come. If it is not roundly challenged, and summarily rejected by all well-thinking Jamaicans, the country will come to regret it.”
The contractor general, meanwhile, expressed trepidation over the statements made by Dr Davies to Parliament to the effect that the three-person panel was established because he and his administration would not accept impotence as an option, and that his Government refuses to ‘allow the OCG to be a stumbling block in the engagement of private entities as the State moves to take advantage of investment opportunities’.
Members of the tripartite panel are Principal and Pro Vice Chancellor of the University of the West Indies Prof Gordon Shirley, businessman R Danny Williams, and retired territory senior partner for auditing firm PricewaterhouseCoopers Everton McDonald.
Yesterday, Davies defended his decision to establish the IOP and said “…The contractor general has its role to play and there is no attempt to block him in doing that, but this is not simply about investigations and probing, it is a question of economic development”.
“I have no problem in the contractor general posing his questions and investigating, but I have a bigger obligation to Cabinet to make projects happen and what we are seeking to do is to discharge that obligation, but also to reassure the public that there is also an independent grouping who, on behalf of the public, will carry that out. So, we must shy away from the notion that there is only one person or office that can do that,” Dr Davies told the JIS programme Issues and Answers.
Christie said yesterday that, unlike the OCG, which is a 60-person professionally staffed national anti-corruption commission, the three-person civilian panel would not be able to satisfactorily fulfill the specialised government contract monitoring and implementation mandate that has been assigned to it by the Executive arm of the State.
He said the three, who have reportedly accepted the appointments, “are likely to place themselves, as well as their hard-earned integrity, at possible risk should their interventions be construed as a criminal obstruction of the Contractor General Act, or should their ‘findings’ or activities become subject to the lawful investigations of the OCG; particularly in respect of any matter in which the said ‘findings’ may run counter to the substantiated determinations of the commission”.
In addition, Christie said his office was “obliged to register its alarm at the contradictory posturing which has been exhibited by the Government, considering that less than five months ago, while in Opposition, Portia Simpson Miller stridently declared that as prime minister she would ensure the strengthening of institutions; like the Office of the Contractor General.
“In the premises, the OCG, with respect, considers the actions of the Administration in this matter to be not only unlawful, but to be dangerous, unprecedented and ominous,” he said.