Head of national works agency in Jamaica sacked

(Jamaica Observer) Patrick Wong was yesterday sacked as chief executive officer of the National Works Agency (NWA) and Transport and Works Minister Mike Henry stripped of all responsibilities for the multi-million-dollar Jamaica Development Infrastructure Programme (JDIP) as Prime Minister Andrew Holness applied damage control measures to an issue that could stain the Government ahead of the impending general election.

According to a release from the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM), Henry requested, received, and accepted Wong’s resignation, which took immediate effect. It added that a replacement will be named shortly.

The release also said that Prime Minister Holness has taken charge of the programme, in an apparent bid to save his administration from further fallout arising from the auditor general’s damning report on the US$400-million road rehabilitation programme.

In the report tabled in Parliament on Tuesday, Auditor General Pamela Munroe-Ellis said the Ministry of Transport and Works, together with the NWA and the Road Maintenance Fund, which has the responsibility for the implementation of the JDIP, had not executed the programme in a transparent manner.

“This is evidenced by inadequate capital project planning, monitoring and record keeping,” Monroe-Ellis said. “The deficiencies highlighted in this report threaten the Government’s objective to achieve its goal to improve the country’s road infrastructure under the Preferential Buyers Credit Facility with the Chinese Ex-Im Bank.”

In one of her findings, Munroe-Ellis said contrary to the provisions of the Government’s procurement guidelines, the NWA used the sole source method to award a contract to China Harbour Engineering Company for approximately J$102 million to refurbish its corporate offices, without the required approval of the National Contracts Commission.

The special audit was generated after howls of protest from the Opposition about the integrity of the programme which the Government, through the Road Maintenance Fund (RMF) and the Export-Import (Ex-Im) Bank of China, entered in August 2009 to finance the improvement and rehabilitation of the island’s road network. JDIP is reputedly the single largest road improvement exercise undertaken by the Jamaican Government in history.

But last week, in response to the auditor general’s report, the permanent secretary in the transport and works ministry, Alwyn Hales, described the findings as more “damaging” than “damning”.

According to Hales, while the project was still very much on solid footing it had attracted a lot of sensationalism which has reached the ears of the Chinese.

He said that the ministry has been working with the Chinese, along with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to keep the project grounded, but insisted that as long as Jamaica continues to honour its contractual obligations the project will continue to completion.

Hales complained that no exit interview was done with the ministry, as required by protocol, which would have allowed it to clarify a number of issues raised by the audit before it was brought to the public, preventing the present firestorm.

He said that the issues and concerns raised in the final version of the report tabled in Parliament last week “were never submitted to me as accounting officer for a response, and this is a long-standing tradition in our relationship with the auditor general that before those reports are tabled we are asked to produce a response”.

Last week, Wong said he apologised to Monroe-Ellis.

“I have apologised to the auditor general. In the contract itself, of the US$400 million, US$2.5 million was set aside for institutional strengthening. It covers refurbishing of the corporate offices, computers, training and technology transfer for the people involved in the project,” Wong said.

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