Wed | Aug 23, 2017

Big jump in cost of debushing programme - NWA to face heat over new $800m budget

Published:Tuesday | January 17, 2017 | 1:00 AMJovan Johnson
Residents carrying out debushing in their community.

A parliamentary committee is to turn up the heat today on the National Works Agency (NWA), the government body that is spearheading the controversial debushing programme.

According to new information, the budget for the programme could now jump by approximately 32 per cent, moving from $606 million to $800 million.

The Public Administration and Appropriations Committee (PAAC) is going through the revised budget and has been questioning why $200 million more has been allocated for road patching, which the committee argued last week was supposed to have been covered by the $606 million, based on pronouncements from Prime Minister Andrew Holness.

Of the $606 million, the NWA retains about $46 million for its fees, leaving the rest ($560 million) for the programme. NWA Chief Executive Officer E.G. Hunter said up to December 28, about $455 million had been spent, leaving $105 million.

Pointing to a December 12 letter from Holness, PAAC Chairman Dr Wykeham McNeill noted that MPs were told that the road-patching and drain-cleaning components would fall "within the firm limit of the programme (debushing)".

The letter, obtained by The Gleaner, noted that from the original figure, $2 million would go to patching and $1 million to drain cleaning per constituency. The full status on those projects is not known.

"We have been in touch with your representatives, who are saying the money isn't there," McNeill said to Hunter, who replied: "My representatives are not authorised to speak on matters of money ... . I am."

 

Questions to answer

 

The chairman, an opposition member, then said: "Here's my specific question, which must be answered before Tuesday (today), because it's contingent on our report to Parliament: What has the expenditure been, and is there money in the contract for the road patching and the drain cleaning? Please, listen carefully, it is simple. The problem is we can't find the $606 million you are talking about."

The debushing programme developed into a political issue as it was launched 10 days before November's local government elections, and the opposition party has maintained that the programme sidelined elected representatives.

jovan.johnson@gleanerjm.com