Ja contractor defends report

KINGSTON, Jamaica – In defence of the findings in his damning report on the controversial Sandals Whitehouse construction project, Contractor General Greg Christie, in an equally scathing letter, has openly denied counterclaims by Dr. Vin Lawrence, chairman of the Urban Development Corporation.

At the same time, a senior official of the Portia Simpson Miller-led administration told The Gleaner that the members of the UDC board have been asked to resign en bloc by Friday. Dr. Lawrence, who remained board chairman though he resigned from his post as executive chairman earlier this year, could also step down from all other Government boards.

Christopher Zacca, director of Gorstew Limited, another company which was implicated in the report, said he shared the concerns of the Contractor General on the matter of transparency and accountability, but emphasised that there was no impropriety on the part of Gorstew.

In a letter to Mr. Christie, Dr. Lawrence argued that the National Contracts Commission Government Procurement Guidelines issued in 2001 made no reference to the appointment of consultants, and that the project consultants who had started work in 2000 would not fall within those guidelines.

However, Mr. Christie, in his letter to the UDC chairman, categorically stated that he would not renege on any comments made in his 73-page report.

“Having carefully read your comments, I must respectfully advise that the Office of the Contractor General reiterates and stands firmly behind each and every one of its findings and conclusions as are set out in the referenced report,” he stated firmly.

The Contractor General also cited sections of the original edition of the Government Procurement Procedures Hand-book. He told Dr. Lawrence that the handbook includes a regime for the procurement of consulting services.

Mr. Christie told the UDC chairman that his comments about the NCC not issuing its guidelines until 2001, and in doing so making reference to contractors only and not to the appointment of consultants, were erroneous.

“The guidelines or GPPH to which you refer were, from their very inception, expressed to govern contracts for the procurement of goods, works and services,” he said. “Moreover, and contrary to what you have stated, the GPPH, in its original edition, makes abundant and specific reference to procedures for the procurement of consulting services.”

Mr. Christie also said that Dr. Lawrence characterised as an allegation, a section of the report, which states that “there was a deliberate attempt to conceal information regarding certain relevant decisions as well as the basis upon which those decisions were made”.

Mr. Christie unequivocally disagreed with Dr. Lawrence’s characterisation.

“We would respectfully disagree with your characterisation and assert that our statement is indeed founded upon a considered, substantiated and fully informed determination,” he said.

In ending his letter to Dr. Lawrence, the Contractor General said that, despite unequivocal requisitions, his office is yet to receive adequate documents and information which would facilitate an understanding of the chronological sequence of events in the implementation and execution of the project. At the same time, when confronted yesterday afternoon at the Clarendon Parish Development Committee meeting at the Spaldings United Church in the parish, Prime Minister Simpson Miller said she was not prepared to comment on the matter as, while a copy of the Contractor General’s report was brought to her yesterday morning, she has not been able to peruse its content.

The Prime Minister however said she would be able to outline the Government’s position on the issue as soon as she is able to examine the document.

In the long-awaited report on the Contractor General’s investigation into the beleaguered Westmoreland hotel project, which was wracked by multimillion US-dollar overruns, Mr. Christie accused Government entities and officials of committing flagrant breaches of procurement procedures. He also recommended that the legislature ensure public bodies and public officials who breach procurement procedures be held accountable. The Contractor General’s findings were tabled in the House of Representatives on Tuesday, a week after it was delivered to Parliament and almost a month after the investigations were concluded.