(Jamaica Observer) Government has again defended its decision to establish the Independent Oversight Panel (IOP) to monitor three major projects, despite objections from Contractor General Greg Christie, arguing that Cabinet has the right to approve advisors for any minister.
“Cabinet has the right to approve advisors for any minister and if the minister feels he needs a panel, Cabinet has the authority to do so,” minister with responsibility for Information, Senator Sandrea Falconer, told journalists
at Wednesday’s weekly Jamaica House Press Briefing in Kingston.
According to Falconer, the IOP should not undermine the work of the Contractor General, but would instead strengthen the ability of Government to deliver its promises of job creation and growth in the economy.
The tripartite panel was established by the Administration in light of concerns raised by Christie, who had expressed displeasure
that the North-South Link of Highway 2000, the Gordon Cay Container Trans-shipment Hub, and the Fort Augusta Container Terminal projects were not being open to competitive tender. Christie argued that the direct negotiations taking place could lead to engagement of the parties through contractual arrangements.
In a war of words between Transport and Works Minister Dr Omar Davies, Christie labelled the Administration’s establishment of the IOP “as a brazen but futile attempt to usurp, undermine and circumvent the lawful government contract monitoring authority and mandate” of his office.
Falconer said Wednesday that the Contractor General does not have authority over the Cabinet. “The members of Parliament were voted into Parliament by the people of Jamaica and the prime minister, in her wisdom, chose the Cabinet which is the executive arm of the Government which makes decisions in the interest of the people that voted us into office,” she said. “We have to look out for the interest of people and that is to grow the economy and create jobs,” she added.
Falconer said the panel, which consists of Principal and Pro-Vice Chancellor of the University of the West Indies Professor Gordon Shirley, businessman R Danny Williams, and retired territory senior partner for auditing firm PricewaterhouseCoopers Everton McDonald, will strengthen the transparency of the three projects.
“It is not an approach that we are competing with what the Contractor General does, or we are ignoring the authority, the two can work hand in hand, and I can see it only as a good thing for Jamaica,” she said.
The bigger loss to Jamaica, she argued, would be if the projects are held up for inordinately long periods of time frustrating investors into withholding investments.
“Money is not readily available every day for major projects and so we have to strike while the iron is hot,” she said.
Meanwhile, Falconer said the team will only be compensated for expenses incurred and will not be paid a salary.