A request by Jamaica’s government contracts watchdog seeking certain information on public projects may end up going to court over the “propriety” of the office of the contractor general making such a request.
Two of the three projects involve China Harbour Engineering Company, which is engaged in sole-source tender-based negotiations with the Jamaican government, according to the contractor general’s office.
China Harbour was selected a year ago by the Cayman Islands government for sole-source negotiations in constructing a cruise port berthing facility in George Town as well as a separate cruise ship facility in West Bay and improvements to the Spotts dock area.
The three projects in Jamaica the contractor general’s office sought information on were the North-South link highway 2000 project, the Gordon Cay container trans-shipment hub project and the Fort Augusta container terminal project.
The contractor general issued a “statutory requisition” for a number of records including requests that written reports outlining deliberations of the newly-formed Government Independent Oversight Panel on the three public projects.
The government oversight panel has requested two extensions of time prior to responding and, according to the contractor general’s office, has challenged the validity of the request from the contractor general.
“It is our opinion that the matter is best resolved by the courts,” Jamaican Attorney General Patrick Atkinson wrote to the contractor general on 18 June. The attorney general has requested a judicial review of the matter.
The challenge in Jamaica questions the law under which the last four contractors general have been operating for the last 27 years, according to the contractor’s office.
The office of the contractor general said it regards the government’s move as “abuse of the judicial process” and “an obvious delay tactic” which the contractor general considered “highly suspicious”.
“The current administration appears not prepared to conduct the country’s public contracting affairs in accordance with international best practices in procurement, good governance, transparency and accountability,” a news release from the contractor general states.
The contractor general made reference to the debarment by the World Bank of China Communications Construction Company, of which China Harbour Engineering Company is a subsidiary, that makes China Harbour ineligible to be awarded any World Bank-financed contracts related to roads and bridges.
“The terms of the debarment of [China Communications] and, by extension [China Harbour], would suggest that one of the primary issues which concerns the World Bank is the presumed deficiencies in the corporate governance policies and practices of [China Communications],” the office of the contractor general said.
No contract for the work in the Cayman Islands has been issued, but a memorandum of understanding was agreed that allowed China Harbour to negotiate exclusively with the government.
The agreement between the Cayman Islands government and China Harbour came after two previous project contractors were jettisoned following earlier negotiations with government over the cruise berthing facility. One of the contractors, GLF construction, had to be paid more than $2 million by government for work it had already performed.
When asked about the World Bank debarment, the Cayman Islands government commented it had found no evidence that China Harbour committed any misconduct or illegal acts that resulted in sanctions by the World Bank.
China Harbour also emphasised that the issues surrounding the debarment are “not a new matter”. The World Bank sanctions were related to China Road and Bridge Corporation and then applied to its parent China Communications and Construction Company when it took over CRBC in 2005, China Harbour said.
“It is evident that [China Harbour] is far removed from any wrongdoing that resulted in the original sanctions placed on CRBC by the World Bank,” the Cayman Islands government statement read. “The far-reaching effect of the World Bank debarment … only relates to [China Harbour] because it is a subsidiary of [China Communications] which inherited the debarment from its predecessor.”