Thu | Aug 17, 2017

Bushing saga deepens - Contractors could be summoned before Parliament

Published:Wednesday | January 18, 2017 | 1:00 AMJovan Johnson
EG Hunter

The saga involving the controversial bush-clearing work has taken another turn because of statements contradicting E.G. Hunter, the chief executive officer of the National Works Agency (NWA). As a result, consideration is now being given to having the contractors appear before a parliamentary committee.

Added to that, yesterday Prime Minister Andrew Holness could not provide members of parliament (MPs) with a final figure for the project, whose original budget of $606 million will be increasing. He said next week was the earliest he could furnish answers.

Addressing yesterday's sitting of the Public Administration and Appropriations Committee (PAAC), Audrey Sewell, permanent secretary in the economic growth and job creation ministry, under which NWA falls, contradicted Hunter, who on multiple occasions said the agency acted solely on the instructions of the Cabinet, including the specific contractors, to engage. In the process, she answered a question opposition members on two parliamentary committees have been asking since the programme was launched on November 18 - ten days before the local government elections.

As he told the Infrastructure and Physical Development Committee last December, Hunter reiterated last Wednesday at a PAAC meeting that the programme and the specific contractors came from the Cabinet. "Notwithstanding any discussion, any deliberation, any iteration prior to my legal remit starts when I have a Cabinet decision that concerns the mandate, confirms the source of funding, and, in the instant case, confirms the contractors to be engaged, the areas of work and the quantum of money. And there's nothing unusual about that," he said.

Sewell, however, said some of what Hunter said was "not so".

"The ministry got from the NWA the mitigation programme - drain cleaning and bushing. In that, we got the scope of work that was to be done. It was a response and would be deemed an emergency, hence the procurement. In terms of the engagement of the contractors, what the ministry got between the technical officers in the ministry and in the NWA were recommendations for contractors," she told this week's PAAC meeting.

Meanwhile, government members at the sitting disagreed with a recommendation by chairman and opposition member, Dr Wykeham McNeill, that the five contractors be called to appear before the committee after an audit of work done under the programme.

"Why wouldn't it be sufficient for the NWA to monitor the work and be satisfied and report to this Parliament?" questioned St Andrew Eastern MP Fayval Williams.

Some MPs have claimed they've seen no evidence of the bush-clearing or drain-cleaning work in their constituency. Hunter has rejected that, saying the allegation "concerns me ... because that is what can send me to jail."

The five contractors - Build-Rite Construction, General Paving, Asphaltic Concrete Enterprise, Y.P. Seaton & Associates, and Construction Solution - were selected under emergency procurement that allows for the bypassing of the normal procurement guidelines.

jovan.johnson@gleanerjm.com