Ja agencies accused of withholding info

KINGSTON, Jamaica – The nation’s move towards transparency and accountability in government is being derailed by agents of the State who are refusing to provide the Contractor General with information on how they award millions of dollars worth of contracts.

With procurement breaches becoming a perennial problem in the public sector, the watchdog of the country’s contracts awards process – the Contractor General – has fingered the National Invest-ment Bank of Jamaica and the Office of National Recon-struction among the agencies that have impeded his investigations by withholding pertinent information, reports the Jamaica Gleaner.

In the 380-page Annual Report of the Contractor General that covers the period January- December 2005 and which was tabled in Parliament on Tuesday, Greg Christie stated angrily that his administration is facing outright defiance from officials at State agencies who refuse to surrender information on their procurement procedures.

A fiery Mr. Christie said that the Government must educate its agencies about the autonomy his office possesses so as to “alleviate the confrontation and other possible conflicts, which have, on occasion, impeded the effective execution of the Contractor-General’s mandate.”

The Report disclosed that the NIBJ did not supply the office of the Contractor-General “with the details of its uncompetitive process for the engagement of legal services for a matter relating to lands owned by the Jamaica Public Service Company”.

The Report further stated that the legal services, which were retained without the benefit of a competitive process, cost in excess of $15 million, the threshold level that required Cabinet approval. “We are still unable to precisely quantify the value of services, but we are fairly confident that it exceeds $20 million.”

The NIBJ now finds itself in the position where it has to account to the Ministry of Finance for these actions.

“The Ministry of Finance has asked us to explain. We are in fact responding to the Ministry of Finance,” revealed Aubyn Hill, chairman of the board of the NIBJ.

Mr. Hill also said that lawyers representing both the NIBJ and the office of the Contractor-General have met and attempted to iron out the multi-million dollar issue.

“I think the issue is now settled but I am responding to the Minister and of course if there is any material at all the Contractor-General needs we would be happy to supply,” he said.

However, Mr. Hill, who took up the chairmanship, last year July after the incident took place, told The Sunday Gleaner that many of the persons who “were there (at the NIBJ) then are not there now.

“I can safely say that whatever the Contractor-General wants now he has been gettingÉ things are a lot different nowÉWe are now compliant and certainly ready to comply with any request of the Contractor-General.”

Mr. Christie, who has been leading an aggressive charge for transparency in the awards process since beginning his tenure in December 2005, emphasised that his commission would be pulling out all the stops to ensure that the NIBJ complies with its demands.

“We will escalate our effort to get NIBJ to supply the information required, and to conform to the procurement procedures,” he said.

In detailing the difficulty faced by his administration in its dealings with the ONR, Mr. Christie said that there were several unsuccessful attempts to obtain information from the ONR regarding its procurement procedures. “As a result we are unable to comment on the procurement methodology used by them in awarding these contracts.”

When contacted, Danville Walker, chief executive officer of the ONR, denied the Contractor-General’s claims and insisted that there was no deliberate attempt to withhold information from the Contractor-General.

“I am befuddled to know what they are referring to. Whatever we are asked to give, we give, and we have no difficulty.”

He continued: “It is easy to give you than to not give you, even if what I am giving you is not in compliance, it is easier for me to give you and let you say so,” he said.

Mr. Walker suggested that the Contractor-General should have written to him before writing the report, informing him of what he would have said about the ONR.

He told The Sunday Gleaner that the ONR spent “just under a billion dollars,” on contracts.

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