Sun | Dec 17, 2017

Trevor Munroe | Hold NWA’s feet to the fire

Published:Friday | November 17, 2017 | 12:00 AM
Trevor Munroe

This is an open letter to the chairman of the Public Accounts Committee of Parliament, Mark Golding.

As you are aware, each day, people from districts across Jamaica, from St Thomas to Clarendon to Westmoreland, are being forced to take to the streets to protest against deplorable and completely unacceptable road conditions, very often in areas where thoroughfares have recently been patched or rehabilitated.

Obviously, all of us have a responsibility to get to the bottom of this distressing situation that not only reflects inadequate infrastructure, but leads to disruption of social order and imposes additional hardship on communities where people are not easily able to go about their everyday business, whether children to schools or the sick to hospitals when emergencies occur.

Bearing in mind the responsibility of the National Works Agency (NWA) for Jamaica's road infrastructure, I feel obliged to bring to your attention the Auditor General's Department performance report of the NWA published December 2015 and available online on the website of the office of the auditor general.

 

IMPROVEMENTS NEEDED

 

It states: "NWA's Quality Management System needs improvements to provide adequate assurance that road construction and rehabilitation projects are completed based on prescribed quality standards and procedures."

In this context, the auditor general found that the "NWA did not have a mechanism to independently obtain the material tests conducted by the labs" used by the contractors. As a result, the auditor general continued, "This arrangement increased the risk of contractors submitting false test results, which had indeed materialised ... . NWA records revealed that ... 36 subcontractors submitted inauthentic test results on contracts amounting $813 million."

Clearly, Mr Chairman, this situation reflects obvious weakness in the system of accountability, directly contributes to road deterioration, which is enraging our citizenry, and pours scarce public resources down the drain. This is hardly a localised defect. Indeed, in her recommendations, the auditor general indicates that "the quality of the nation's road infrastructure could be compromised if the NWA does not immediately implement changes to its Quality Management System to prevent contractors from submitting falsified test results". Against this background, I am urging that your committee, on behalf of the public, inquire what has been done in relation to recommendations, proposed for immediate implementation almost two years ago.

Mr Chairman, in this context, it is appropriate to remind you and the Public Accounts Committee of the observation made in Ministry Paper #63, The National Security Policy for Jamaica 2013: "Jamaica has, simultaneously, one of the most dense road networks in the world, and one of the worst road networks in the world in terms of the percentage of roads in good condition."

The National Security Policy concludes that one of the main reasons for this unacceptable situation is that "the direction of public works contractors into the hands of political affiliates has also been particularly damaging ... . A contract to build a road might provide an opportunity to reward political affiliates, and shoddy construction would ensure that the road surface would crumble, which would then allow the issuing of another contract to resurface the road."

Given the overall situation referred to in the auditor general's performance audit of the NWA and the observations of the National Security Policy for Jamaica, I am recommending that the Public Accounts Committee, as a matter of urgency, request the NWA to appear before you and to indicate what the agency has done in implementing the findings of the performance audit.

- Professor Trevor Munroe is executive director of National Integrity Action. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.