Thu | Aug 24, 2017

Editorial | Be transparent about clean-up bill

Published:Wednesday | January 18, 2017 | 1:03 AM

We are concerned at the seeming elasticity of the budget - insofar as it stretches outward - of the Government's controversial municipal cleaning and road-repair projects, as well as the murkiness in which its management has been enveloped. It is time for the administration to be fully transparent about the programme.

The project emerged, Nicodemus-style, on the eve of last November's municipal elections. Suddenly, people converged on communities trimming verges, cleaning gutters and undertaking the kind of small-infrastructure maintenance of the type residents welcome, but which is not done often enough. It turned out that there was a budget of J$600 million for this project.

The downside was that many people, including the Opposition People's National Party (PNP), perceived it as an effort by the Government to gain political advantage through patronage. Mostly, when such projects are planned, political representatives of both sides are informed and have some input in shaping the scope of the work. This is not a system of project management of which this newspaper approves. But in a society where trust is low and the partisan distribution of national benefits has been a long-standing problem, we accept it as the start of a process of lessening the worst excesses of, and towards a full extrication from, political patronage.

In this case, the Government argued that the timing of the municipal elections and the clean-up was merely coincidental. Later, Prime Minister Andrew Holness attempted to placate the Opposition by telling all parliamentarians that up to J$3 million would be spent in each constituency. Given that there are 63 constituencies, the bill for this would be a little under J$200 million.

Mr Holness suggested that this expenditure would be accommodated out of the J$600 million initially budgeted. There has been much toing and froing between the National Works Agency (NWA), the project managers, and Parliament's Public Administration and Appropriations Committee on the accounts. But how much has been spent, and where, remains hazy.

 

BILL INCREASE

 

What is clear, though, is that the Supplementary Estimates, recently tabled by Finance Minister Audley Shaw, provisions an additional J$200 million for this project. In other words, unless there is a credible explanation to the contrary, the bill has increased by a third.

We have no problem with that if the new budget of J$800 million represents the real cost of the project and taxpayers are getting value for their money. In this regard, the administration, via the NWA and Prime Minister Holness' economic growth ministry, should lay out the following:

- The name of all contractors on this project;

- The scope of work undertaken by each contractor;

- How much was paid to each contractor and the method by which this was done;

- How many people were employed by each contractor and the aggregate sums each paid to their workers;

- An itemisation of all management fees for this project and to whom they were/are paid.

This level of transparency will end the lingering suspicions surrounding this project. In any event, it is the right of the people whose money is being spent to know where and how it is being spent.