Editorial | A small strike against corruption
We are grateful for the alacrity with which Prime Minister Andrew Holness staunched the bipartisan assault by elements of the gangs of Gordon House on the joint-venture shelter project between the Government and the charity, Food For The Poor (FFP), which, if it had succeeded, would have transformed the venture into one of spoils and patronage to be dispensed by politicians.
But even as we applaud this display of pluck and mettle by Mr Holness, involving a rare public pushback against members of his own party, including his wife, Juliet Holness, we believe that there is much more to be done to weaken the environment in which corruption flourishes. So, there is no time for the prime minister to burnish halos or rest on laurels.
The move against the FFP project was a classic political offensive. Food For The Poor has over the years delivered 320 wooden homes, with modern amenities, at a cost of US$6,400 per unit, of which the Government contributes half. The charity's supporters fund the rest. For the homes built under the specific arrangement, beneficiaries are chosen by government technocrats, based on independent applications, without the influence of members of parliament (MPs).
But MPs would love to get their hands on the programme, to make it into a trough, in the fashion of the notorious Constituency Development Fund (CDF), from which they flash around taxpayers' money while pretending it is theirs for the fattening of support. The tactic at a meeting of Parliament's Infrastructure and Physical Development Committee was to latch on to Food For The Poor's request of the US$400 increase in the Government's contribution to the cost of each home to defer increased prices.
From either side of the aisle, MPs launched unwarranted attacks on the homes produced by FFP and claimed that they and their constituents could deliver them far cheaper, by as much of half the current cost, which, really, was a demand that they be given control of the project including the right to select beneficiaries.
In the face of a backlash, Mr Holness declared "full support" for the arrangement with Food For The Poor and instructed his economic growth and development ministry to negotiate its continuation before the existing deal expires in August. In the circumstances, we believe it impolitic to ask the prime minister about the veracity of a declaration by one of his junior ministers that he had ordered a halt and review of the project.
For the great import of what Mr Holness did is that it stalled a movement which was potentially corrupt, thereby advancing one small part of the mission to which he committed himself in his inaugural address as prime minister.
Mr Holness can accelerate can expand and accelerate this gain, with action on several fronts, starting with the provision of frank responses to the following issues related to the notorious verge and drain cleaning project on the eve of the November, 2016 municipal elections:
- The selection of the contractors and the process by which this was done;
- The volume and value of work assigned to each contractor;
- The management fee for the project, and all parties who received this payment;
- How many workers were employed on each segment of the project and who selected them;
- The per kilometre fee paid to workers were and gross amount they received;
- The rate per kilometre paid to contractors;
- The volume of work completed by contractors;
- The rate of return achieved by contractors on the project;
- The publication of all documents related to the project.