Hol­ness–OCG show­down looms

US Em­bassy pub­licly adds voice to Sym­biote li­cence con­cerns

Jamaica Gleaner - - NEWS - Jo­van John­son Staff Reporter jo­van.john­son@glean­erjm.com

AFACE-OFF IS shap­ing up be­tween Prime Min­is­ter An­drew Hol­ness and the Of­fice of the Con­trac­tor Gen­eral (OCG), the coun­try’s main anti-cor­rup­tion body, over the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s de­ci­sion to grant Ja­maica’s third cel­lu­lar li­cence to Sym­biote In­vest­ments Limited.

Yes­ter­day, Hol­ness was forced to is­sue a state­ment not­ing his “con­cern” over re­cent com­ments from Con­trac­tor Gen­eral Dirk Har­ri­son.

Har­ri­son ad­vised in a July re­port that the Govern­ment should not is­sue the li­cence be­cause of “ad­verse” find­ings against Ge­orge Neil, one of the play­ers in Sym­biote, the hold­ing com­pany for Cari­cel, which will pro­vide the telecoms ser­vice.

The Govern­ment went ahead any­way as Hol­ness de­clared in Par­lia­ment on Septem­ber 13: “We did our due dili­gence.”

How­ever, in a Na­tion­wide ra­dio in­ter­view on Tues­day, Har­ri­son claimed that some­thing Hol­ness did not say in Par­lia­ment left him “cu­ri­ous”.

“I find it a lit­tle cu­ri­ous that some­thing that went un­men­tioned by the honourable prime min­is­ter was the fact that there ex­ists a Cabi­net de­ci­sion which stated that when the li­cence is signed by the min­is­ter, Dr (An­drew) Wheat­ley, the name Ge­orge Neil should bear no ref­er­ence to Cari­cel.”

Wheat­ley is the min­is­ter of science, en­ergy and tech­nol­ogy who signed the $2.7-bil­lion li­cence.

“I’m very con­cerned,” Har­ri­son con­tin­ued, “that the honourable prime min­is­ter would have made the state­ment he made in the Par­lia­ment on the 13th (Septem­ber) and he didn’t share with the coun­try that fact, but in­stead, he stopped short of chastis­ing the of­fice and the role of the of­fice.”

WHEAT­LEY IN­STRUCTED

The state­ment from Hol­ness’ of­fice said he has in­structed Wheat­ley “to pre­pare and is­sue a state­ment, set­ting out the time­line and se­quence of events sur­round­ing the grant of the li­cence”.

Mean­while, Hol­ness is un­der even more pres­sure to ad­dress the is­sue with the pub­lic en­trance of the United States govern­ment into the is­sue.

The US Em­bassy in Kingston, in a Twit­ter post on Tues­day, said “us, too” in re­sponse to the OCG’s con­cerns.

Hol­ness’ state­ment also con­firmed that the Sym­biote is­sue has been the sub­ject of dis­cus­sions be­tween Ja­maica and the US.

EM­BASSY NOT MED­DLING

Joshua Po­lacheck, pub­lic af­fairs of­fi­cer at the em­bassy, said the Tweet was not an in­di­ca­tion that the US was med­dling in do­mes­tic af­fairs.

“What the em­bassy was do­ing was high­light­ing con­cerns raised by the con­trac­tor gen­eral about the lack of clar­ity around this par­tic­u­lar telecoms con­tract,” Po­lacheck told The Gleaner.

“We hear the con­trac­tor gen­eral say that the con­tract was signed two and a half months ago, but it does not ap­pear to be a mat­ter of pub­lic record. No rep­re­sen­ta­tive from that com­pany, as far as we’re aware, has ap­proached any Amer­i­can author­i­ties about is­sues around inter-con­nec­tiv­ity,” he added.

In an ap­par­ent re­sponse to the Twit­ter com­ment from the em­bassy, Hol­ness said his ad­min­is­tra­tion would “con­tinue to en­gage” the US “via nor­mal diplo­matic chan­nels, with a view to ad­dress­ing any con­cerns”.

Min­nett Lawrence, Sym­biote’s lawyer, has main­tained that her clients have been above board.

Wheat­ley had strug­gled in Par­lia­ment to pro­vide in­for­ma­tion on the di­rec­tors, share­hold­ers, and ul­ti­mate ben­e­fi­cial share­hold­ers of this en­tity.

The con­trac­tor gen­eral ad­vised Wheat­ley not to sign the li­cence, cit­ing that vari­a­tions of Neil’s name on doc­u­ments sug­gested an at­tempt to mis­lead the Govern­ment as well as the pres­ence of ad­verse find­ings in­volv­ing Neil from a 2009 OCG probe.

David McBean, man­ag­ing direc­tor of the Spec­trum Man­age­ment Au­thor­ity, told The Gleaner yes­ter­day that the com­pany is up to date on a pay­ment plan. He de­clined to give de­tails on the struc­ture of the pay­ment plan.

HAR­RI­SON

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