Jamaica Gov’t slams ‘arrogant’ Contractor General

(Jamaica Observer) The Government yesterday labelled as shrill and arrogant Acting Contractor General Craig Beresford’s accusation that the Cabinet has been obstructing his probe of major State projects.

Attorney General Patrick Atkinson also bluntly told Beresford that the Cabinet reports to Parliament, not to the Office of the Contractor General (OCG), and said that the executive would not release documents required for the probe until the Supreme Court ruled on the powers of the OCG.

“The Constitution of Jamaica vests the Cabinet with the general direction and control of the Government of Jamaica, and it is collectively responsible therefore to the Parliament of Jamaica and not to the OCG,” Atkinson said in a stinging statement issued on behalf of the Cabinet.

The attorney general also defended the decision of the Cabinet Office to discontinue releasing to the OCG documents it requested to support its investigations. He said that this was based on his “unequivocal advice” that the Cabinet should await a decision from the Supreme Court on issues relevant to an interpretation of the Contractor General Act.

The Government requested a judicial review to define the powers of the OCG in its pre-contract monitoring because of the OCG’s probe into the award of contracts for the North-South Link of Highway 2000 and the Gordon Cay Container Transshipment Hub.

The OCG has also said that the Government’s actions have affected its monitoring of the operations of Blue Diamonds Hotels and Resorts Inc and the liquefied natural gas (LNG) project.

The OCG filed an affidavit in the Supreme Court in July last year in response to an earlier application by Transport and Works Minister Omar Davies seeking to have the court restrain the OCG from securing information from the Independent Oversight Panel set up by the Government to oversee the award of its contracts.

But last week, Beresford asked the director of public prosecutions to pursue criminal charges against the Cabinet for failing to comply with the OCG’s requests.

According to the OCG, its decision was taken with due care after failing to secure compliance from the Cabinet or the intervention of the prime minister over the past eight months, and subsequent to consideration of the legal recourse available.

“The OCG considers the Cabinet’s non-compliance to be tantamount to an obstruction to its office, as it seeks to faithfully discharge its mandates and obligation to the people of Jamaica, by ensuring that Government contracts, inclusive of licences and permits, and the divestment of State assets, are awarded/granted impartially, on merit, and in circumstances which do not involve impropriety or irregularity,” the OCG said.

However, yesterday, the attorney general said: “In what can be described as strident and arrogant language, the acting CG accuses the Cabinet of obstructing the OCG, and in flagrant violation of the rule of law. In this regard, the acting CG has acted inappropriately and out of a misunderstanding of his duties and the primacy of the Constitution of Jamaica.”

He said that the Cabinet refutes Beresford’s “characterisations” and statement that his position is lawful and in accord with his duties under the Constitution of Jamaica, as the principal instrument of policy.

Atkinson also accused the OCG of insisting on a right to issue media releases concerning its investigations, “even before it reports to Parliament”, under what he described as “unsubstantiated discretionary powers”.

“I am of the view that, under Jamaican law, submissions, Cabinet notes, or other documents created for the purpose of submission to the Cabinet for its consideration, and have been or are intended to be submitted, are official documents and exempt from publication and disclosure to the public,” Atkinson stated.

“It was upon my unequivocal advice that the Cabinet decided not to release its documents until the Supreme Court has ruled on issues relevant to the interpretation of the Contractor General Act, which clearly states that the OCG shall regard as secret and confidential all documents, information and things disclosed to that office,” Atkinson explained.