(Jamaica Observer) Prime Minister Andrew Holness last night announced that a forensic audit will be undertaken to determine how funds under the controversial Jamaica Development Infrastructure Programme (JDIP) have been spent.
While not stating when the audit will begin, the prime minister, in a national broadcast, disclosed that the probe will be carried out by the Government.
The announcement came at the end of an eventful week in which Mike Henry resigned as transport and works minister and his permanent secretary, Dr Alwyn Hales sent on vacation leave, due to the continued fallout over the management of the multi-billion-dollar roadworks programme, funded through a loan from the Chinese Government.
Late last month, the auditor general furnished a report which pointed to gross deficiencies in the management of the programme.
But in his address last night, Holness — in an apparent bid to set the record straight before embarking on the general election campaign — said all the findings of the forensic audit will be made public.
He also reiterated that a consulting firm will be engaged to, among other things, determine whether Jamaicans have received value for money, as it relates to expenditure under the programme, described as the largest infrastructure programme in the country’s history.
“We are well underway with the engagement of an independent consulting firm with strong technical competence in infrastructure management, which will provide technical oversight of JDIP and will provide an assessment as to whether value for money was obtained,” said Holness, in what could be his last national broadcast before announcing the date for the next general election tonight at a mass rally in Mandeville.
“I want it to be clearly understood that my duty is to ensure that the law is followed and that the systems and institutions are in place to protect the public interest and to work to ensure that where gaps exist in systems and laws, they are corrected,” he said.
“There will be no attempt to cover up any matter. I believe we have demonstrated this in our actions to date. I am aware that each new discovery can create public alarm and disgust. Rest assured that the goal of this Government is to create a transparent and frugal public service and I am committed to ensuring that this is achieved,” he added.
The prime minister also used his address to respond to concerns over the granting of sub-contracts to local contractors. “The management arrangement of JDIP has been severely criticised where the main contractor is allowed to sub-contract with local contractors without utilising the GOJ procurement procedures. The original position of the Government was that all sub-contractors should be Grade 1 contractors as classified by the National Contracts Commission. However, some of the selected Grade 1 sub-contractors were subsequently downgraded from their Grade 1 status during the contracting period. In these instances, the sub-contractors were still under contract and had contractual obligations to fulfil,” he explained.
“In my review of the JDIP programme, we have started to explore the introduction of a more robust and competitive selection process. I have given directions to my permanent secretary to devise a plan that will introduce competitive tendering which will be presented to the Cabinet,” he added.
Despite the problems that have arisen, the prime minister remains convinced that the various projects under the JDIP have helped to improve the quality of life in Jamaica. “Regardless of all the surrounding issues, JDIP so far has completed several main roads, and 44 projects are currently in progress islandwide — which include works on supporting infrastructure, bridges and drainage,” he said. “All of these projects have helped to improve the quality of life in Jamaica. I will ensure that we use public funds effectively to obtain maximum benefit for all Jamaicans.”
The prime minister, who took control of the JDIP programme in the aftermath of the auditor general’s report, told Jamaicans that he has decided to focus on JDIP’s original mandate, which, he said, was not being adhered to as a result of several factors. “In the management and administration of JDIP, various demands for all kinds of roads and projects, which were not in the original concept have been made on the Government. In addition, several natural disasters have forced the Government to adjust the scheduled programme to facilitate recovery from the dislocating effect of these events. The JDIP programme has the potential to be a flagship project if properly managed. Going forward, I have decided to refocus JDIP to its original mandate, which is the rehabilitation of main roads and some main community roads and supporting infrastructure,” he said.
The prime minister, in his broadcast, said his administration has accepted the major findings of the auditor general and has already taken steps to correct the breaches identified in the report.