Jamaica PM assumes control of criticized infrastructure programme

(Jamaica Gleaner) Prime Minister Andrew Holness has assumed temporary control of the Jamaica Development Infrastructure Programme (JDIP) in the wake of a highly critical special report from the Auditor General’s Department into the US$400-million programme.

The report, which was tabled in the House of Representatives last Tuesday, said, “The Ministry of Transport and Works, together with the National Works Agency (NWA) and the Road Maintenance Fund, which has the responsibility for the implementation of the JDIP, has not executed the programme in a transparent manner. This is evidenced by inadequate capital project planning, monitoring and record keeping.”

In a statement yesterday, Jamaica House said the taking over of JDIP by Holness was done “with a view to reviewing and improving the operating, accounting, reporting and general management structures of the project”.

The media release said Holness will give ministerial direction for the JDIP during this period.

Well-placed government sources say Daryl Vaz, minister without portfolio with responsibility for public-sector efficiency, will be in charge of the day-to-day affairs of JDIP and will report to Holness regularly.

Contacted yesterday, Vaz said he left the Cabinet meeting early and was not in a position to comment on any JDIP-related development.

In the meantime, Jamaica House has announced that no new work orders will be issued for works which have not already been approved and funded and that Patrick Wong, chief executive officer (CEO) of the National Works Agency, had been asked to resign.

Up to Thursday, Wong was insisting that he would only resign as NWA CEO if Transport and Works Minister Mike Henry asked him to step aside.

“This is within the purview of my minister. If he so asks me to resign, I have no obligation but to comply,” Wong said at a press conference called by the NWA and the works ministry to respond to the special audit report.

Following an emergency meeting of Cabinet Friday night, Henry told Wong he could not continue in the job.

“To pave the way for improved governance arrangements and management safeguards at the National Works Agency, the minister of transport and works has requested, received, and accepted the resignation of the chief executive officer of the National Works Agency with immediate effect,” the release said. “An interim head will be named shortly.”

misconceptions

At the press conference, Wong said “there have been some misconceptions” about the way JDIP was being implemented.

“But we are in the process of executing the largest programme, the most transparent programme in terms of information to the public … the quality of the work (is) second to none; I will take my licks where that is concerned,” Wong responded when asked what circumstances would cause him to resign.

Among the breaches identified by the audit report is the use of US$1.2 million or approximately J$102 million by the NWA to refurbish its corporate offices without the required approval of the National Contracts Commission.

Wong said US$2.5 million of the US$400 million for JDIP was set aside for institutional strengthening of the NWA.

“The refurbishing was required because of the nature of the programme. We were given approval to hire 58 additional members of staff … the entire roof of the building was leaking, so computers, files and everything was in jeopardy,” Wong said.

He added: “We had to upgrade the lab facilities to accommodate such a large programme. There were many issues.”

The NWA now boasts remade bathrooms, artwork on some walls, new air-conditioning units, a patio, new floor and wall tiles, and remade conference rooms.

Wong could not be reached for comment up to press time yesterday.

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