De­bush­ing PROBE

OCG looks into $600m state project days be­fore elec­tions

Jamaica Gleaner - - FRONT PAGE - Jo­van John­son Staff Re­porter

JUST DAYS be­fore the lo­cal govern­ment elec­tions, the coun­try’s main an­ti­cor­rup­tion body, the Of­fice of the Con­trac­tor Gen­eral (OCG), has opened a probe into a govern­ment bush-clear­ing pro­gramme, the source of ten­sions be­tween the ad­min­is­tra­tion and the Op­po­si­tion Peo­ple’s Na­tional Party (PNP). The op­po­si­tion party is con­tend­ing that the pro­gramme is be­ing used by the Hol­ness ad­min­is­tra­tion to ‘buy’ sup­port ahead of Mon­day’s elec­tions. Con­trac­tor Gen­eral Dirk Har­ri­son’s probe was con­firmed yes­ter­day by the Na­tional Works Agency (NWA), which is spear­head­ing the project that the PNP said by­passed its po­lit­i­cal rep­re­sen­ta­tives. Ques­tions sent to the OCG on whether a probe is un­der way are yet to be an­swered. “I know that in­for­ma­tion has been re­quested by that of­fice (OCG), and we have been pro­vid­ing same to that of­fice. As to whether an in­ves­ti­ga­tion is be­ing done, the OCG will have to answer that,” said Stephen Shaw, NWA com­mu­ni­ca­tions man­ager. He added that the first set of in­for­ma­tion has al­ready been sub­mit­ted to the anti-cor­rup­tion

body, while ad­di­tional in­for­ma­tion, which has been re­quested, is to be sub­mit­ted to­day.

Shaw de­clined to state the na­ture of the in­for­ma­tion sought.

“I don’t know that I’m at lib­erty to in­di­cate. As I said, the OCG has re­quested in­for­ma­tion and we have been pro­vid­ing the in­for­ma­tion re­quested.”

PNP Gen­eral Sec­re­tary Paul Burke said the party was pleased by the OCG’s ac­tions.

“We wel­come the in­ves­ti­ga­tion by the OCG [al­though] we are aware that the out­come of this in­ves­ti­ga­tion will not come be­fore the elec­tions,” Burke said.

At the same time, the prime min­is­ter, through his press sec­re­tary, Naomi Fran­cis, dis­closed that he was seek­ing a “full brief” on the pro­gramme, which falls un­der the Min­istry of Eco­nomic Growth and Job Cre­ation, which he heads.

“I have re­ceived her let­ter and asked to be pro­vided with a full brief of the pro­gramme by the per­ma­nent sec­re­tary in the Min­istry of Eco­nomic Growth and Job Cre­ation and the Chief Ex­ec­u­tive Of­fice of the Na­tional Works Agency,” said Hol­ness.

“Af­ter I have re­ceived the brief, I will ad­dress the mat­ters raised.”

Parch­ment Brown has said that she is “anx­ious” for Hol­ness’s re­sponse.

“I am re­ally, re­ally, anx­ious to hear from the prime min­is­ter so that we may have some words in the pub­lic do­main that can ad­dress the con­cerns.”

PRO­GRAMME WAS MA­JOR IS­SUE

The con­tentious pro­gramme was a ma­jor is­sue dur­ing Wed­nes­day’s tele­vised po­lit­i­cal de­bate be­tween rep­re­sen­ta­tives of both par­ties.

The PNP’s Eu­gene Kelly an­gered his op­po­nents when he de­clared that the Hol­ness ad­min­is­tra­tion was “threat­en­ing” the coun­try’s democ­racy with the de­bush­ing pro­gramme he called a “vote-buy­ing scheme”.

“Rain don’t (sic) only fall in JLP con­stituency. The $600 mil­lion vote-buy­ing scheme is a threat to our democ­racy,” he as­serted.

Dr Ho­race Chang, JLP gen­eral sec­re­tary and min­is­ter with­out port­fo­lio in the growth min­istry, has said that the tim­ing of the de­bush­ing work and the elec­tions is “co­in­ci­den­tal”, adding that the pro­gramme is needed, es­pe­cially in light of the re­cent heavy rains.

The work pro­gramme was never an­nounced and was brought to the pub­lic’s at­ten­tion by the PNP in a state­ment call­ing for the OCG and om­buds­man to in­ves­ti­gate.

Na­tional In­tegrity Ac­tion has sup­ported in­ves­ti­ga­tions into the bush work, say­ing, it “ap­pears in clear vi­o­la­tion” of the Con­sti­tu­tion and other po­lit­i­cal agree­ments.

HAR­RI­SON

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