Jamaica contractor general’s office warns Cabinet of ‘criminal offence’

(Jamaica Observer) The Office of the Contractor General (OCG) says that it is appalled at the Cabinet’s challenge to its powers to access information needed to complete investigations into three major investment projects being pursued by the Government.

The Government has challenged the OCG’s probe into the North-South Link of Highway 2000, the Gordon Cay Container Transshipment Hub, and establishment of an oversight panel to oversee the award of the Government contracts.

The OCG says that until and unless a court of competent jurisdiction overrules the decision made in the case of Lawrence v Ministry of Construction (Works) and the AG (1991), or otherwise restrains it from proceeding with requisitions, failure by the Cabinet or any other person or authority to comply with its requisitions for information “amounts to a flagrant violation of the rule of law and constitutes a criminal offence under section 29 of the Contractor General Act”.

The OCG said that for clarity, it had decided to provide an overview of the positions posited by the Office of the Cabinet over the past seven months for the information of Parliament. The special report was tabled in the Senate on Friday.

In the report, the OCG said that the actions of the Cabinet had also affected its monitoring of the operations of Blue Diamonds Hotels and Resorts Inc and the Liquefied Natural Gas project.

The special report also said that the OCG regards the situation as grave, “which is not only incongruous in nature, but which further questions the intent of the Cabinet of Jamaica and, by extension, the current administration”, in its decision to challenge the statutory requests of the OCG for the provision of certain documents.

The OCG said that the situation raises “very serious concerns”, “especially since it had, in the past, received the full and unfettered support and compliance of the Office of the Cabinet”.

The OCG filed an Affidavit in the Supreme Court on July 6, in response to an earlier application by Minister of Transport and Works Dr Omar Davies seeking, among other things, to have the court restrain the office from securing information from a Government-appointed Independent Oversight Panel (IOP) and from monitoring and investigating the panel’s activities and reporting on those activities.

Former Contractor General Greg Christie had accused the Government of trying to bypass his office and threatened legal action if the oversight panel did not supply the requested information. He maintained, up to his retirement last month, that the Contractor General Act gives him the power to vet pre- and post-contractual agreements.

However, Dr Davies and Attorney General Patrick Atkinson want the court to determine the extent of the contractor general’s power to investigate matters in the pre-contract stage, and to bar him from issuing any document on sensitive matters to the media prior to tabling them in Parliament.

Members of the IOP — 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 — have decided to stand down until the matter is settled in court.

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