Wed | Sep 19, 2018

Arnaldo Brown | Andrew Wheatley’s slippery slope

Published:Sunday | June 24, 2018 | 12:00 AM

"Speak the truth and speak it ever, cost it what it will. He who hides the wrong he did does the wrong thing still."

It is questionable whether Dr Andrew Wheatley internalised this memory gem. Had he, he may not now find himself at the centre of yet another scandal. The latest episode of mismanagement and extravagance at the expense of taxpayers at the Ministry of Energy should come as no surprise to anyone as this is not the first time that he has been embroiled in a 'run wid it' scheme.

Recall the $600-million bush-clearing exercise on the eve of the November 28, 2016, local government elections. Following complaints by the then deputy general secretary of the People's National Party, Julian Robinson, the Office of the Contractor General launched an "investigation into the award of contracts for the Islandwide Mitigation (Debushing and Drain-Cleaning) Programme which was implemented by the National Works Agency (NWA)" and issued a 485-page Special Report, selected excerpts of which are shared below.

 

Term of Reference

 

The most germane term of reference is set out for ease as follows:

"4. Whether there was any breach of the Contractor General Act (CGA), the Regulations, the Government of Jamaica Public Sector Procurement Guidelines 2012 (GPPH) and the Public Bodies Management and Accountability Act in the award of contracts to undertake the Islandwide Mitigation (Debushing and Drain-Cleaning) Programme."

Dr Wheatley's name is mentioned more than 100 times in the report. He was interviewed by then Contractor General, Dirk Harrison, in relation to this debushing exercise, which breached the procurement policies and guidelines of the Government, a vulgar use of taxpayers' money to influence the outcome of the local government elections.

Page 23 of the Report states:

"36. Messrs Vincent Taylor of Construction Solutions Ltd ... advised the OCG of an established protocol/practice of members of parliament being consulted by the contractor prior to the execution of the contracts with a view to mobilising the community members to execute debushing and drain-cleaning works.

"37. Dr Andrew Wheatley, Shahine Robinson and Robert Montague denied the allegations made by Vincent Taylor that they specified the persons to whom cheques were to be made payable and the manner in which same should be apportioned."

Page 86 further states:

"At this juncture, the OCG highlights that Dr Andrew Wheatley, MP, denied selecting or making recommendations of facilitators for the execution of the Islandwide Mitigation (Debushing and Drain-Cleaning) Programme. In point of fact, with the exception of Oswald Williams, it is the assertion of Minister Wheatley that he did not recognise any of the named contractors on Exhibit VT1."

Dr Andrew Wheatley, MP, appeared before the OCG on January 17, 2016 and a transcript of the hearing was recorded and relied upon by the contractor general to arrive at one of his conclusions articulated on Pages 361-362 of the report:

"15. The OCG concludes that, based on their admission, Dr Andrew Wheatley, Robert Montague and Everald Warmington entered into a consultative discussion with Vincent Taylor and/or representatives of Construction Solutions Ltd concerning the execution of the subject programme. In addition, Daryl Vaz entered into similar discussions with Patrick Gordon of Asphaltic Concrete Enterprises in the same regard.

"The consultative discussions held between the named contractors and Dr Andrew Wheatley, Robert Montague and Daryl Vaz led to the recommendation by the members of parliament, of specific subcontractors, and in the case of Dr Andrew Wheatley facilitators, who were ultimately selected for the execution and performance of the respective contracts."

The contractor general further concluded:

"19. The OCG notes with keen interest the further evidence provided by Vincent Taylor concerning the involvement of the referenced members of parliament in (a) specifying the persons to whom cheques should be made payable, (b) the amounts in which same should be made payable, and (c) the manner in which same were to be apportioned to the subcontractors and/or facilitators. This is especially the case when juxtaposed with the denial and challenge of the subject members of parliament. In this regard, the OCG can only reasonably conclude that either Shahine Robinson, Dr Andrew Wheatley and Robert Montague are mendacious in their representations or that Mr Taylor is being insincere."

Is it any wonder then that we should now be seeing a footloose and reckless spending occurring under Dr Wheatley's watch? In relation to the bush-clearing scandal, he adopted a see-no-evil, hear-no-evil, speak-no-evil approach as in the present sordid affairs made bare once again by Julian Robinson.

 

Breach of gov't guidelines

 

It is confirmed that a chairman who was paid travel expenses for meetings he did not attend and was reimbursed out of the public purse in breach of government procurement guidelines to the tune of US$8,000, a board that had not met in nine months, a wall with cost overruns to the tune of $91m and donations in excess of $70m that cannot be verified and which seems to be skewed towards his constituency.

The prime minister cannot escape scrutiny. He may very well be beholden to Wheatley for the role he played in the November 2016 'buy'-election. The silence of the PM is palpable on the OCG Report into the debushing exercise. His silence on the current scandal engulfing the Ministry of Energy is shocking. Surely, the intervention of the PM is demanded by the growing stench.

- Arnaldo Brown is an attorney-at-law and former member of parliament for St Catherine East Central. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and arnaldobrownandcompany@gmail.com.