Mon | May 29, 2017

Stop it! - Chief contractor in controversial multimillion-dollar de-bushing project wants OCG probe halted

Published:Friday | February 17, 2017 | 2:00 AMJovan Johnson and Livern Barrett
Debushing work under way.

Lawyers representing the principal in the construction firm that got the largest payout from the Government's $600-million de-bushing programme went to court yesterday seeking an injunction to block part of an investigation by the Office of the Contractor General (OCG) into the controversial project.

The application by Vincent Taylor, the principal in Construction Solutions Limited (CSL), was, however, adjourned by Supreme Court judge Justice Kissock Laing until May 1.

CSL was awarded a $183.6 million contract for de-bushing work in St Catherine, St Mary, and St Ann. Documents submitted to a parliamentary committee last month showed that up to December 21 last year, the company was paid a total of $158.3 million.

Yesterday, the OCG acknowledged that it summoned Taylor last November "to provide evidentiary material" related to payments his company received from the National Works Agency (NWA) under the contract his company signed on November 18, 2016.

But, according to Taylor's lead attorney Chuck Cameron, the Contractor General Dirk Harrison was seeking to question his client about how he spent his personal funds after it was paid to him by the NWA.

Cameron accused Harrison of using the threat of criminal prosecution to encroach on his client's right to privacy as it relates to his personal financial affairs.

The OCG acknowledged that Taylor was summoned in accordance with Section 15 of the Contractor General Act, which makes him liable for prosecution for failure to comply with the request.

 

RIGHT TO PRIVACY

 

"The Contractor General is interfering with the claimant's right to privacy when he seeks to compel a citizen to divulge personal information," Cameron told The Gleaner, explaining the basis on which Taylor sought the court's intervention.

However, the OCG countered, through its lead attorney, Jacqueline Samuels Brown, pointing out that the CSL boss was notified of the investigation from as far back as November 22 last year. "Yet Mr Taylor took no steps to seek the court's intervention until just yesterday," she said.

But Cameron insisted that once the NWA certifies the work done and issues a certificate of payment, the OCG "does not have any authority to ask the contractor what he does with the money after he has been paid for work that was certified".

Asked if the CSL boss had been cooperating with the OCG until he was asked to reveal how funds collected under the programme was spent, the attorney declined to comment.

"That's now going into the facts of the case. The matter is before the court and that is what is considered sub judice," he told The Gleaner.

The adjournment was granted after the OCG indicated that it was served with court documents just before 5 o'clock on Wednesday evening and was unable to properly update its attorney and file a response.

The debushing programme developed into a political issue as it was launched 10 days before November's local government elections. The opposition People's National Party has maintained that the programme sidelined elected representatives and was used to "buy" support for the Andrew Holness-led Jamaica Labour Party.

Last month, the Public Administration and Appropriations Committee of Parliament was left shocked when the NWA chief executive officer, EG Hunter, admitted that the $606 million was used up without one component of the work being started. Additional expense is expected to push the total budget to about $800 million.

 

DE-BUSHING PROGRAMME CONTRACTORS:

 

- Construction Solution Ltd

Location: St Catherine, St Mary and St Ann

Contract amount: $183 million

Payments: $158 million

Company incorporated May 16, 1996

Directors: Vincent Taylor (engineer), Muriel Taylor (accountant), Herma Miller (manager)

- Build-Rite Construction Co Ltd

Location: Manchester, Clarendon and St Elizabeth

Contract amount: $133 million

Payments: $129 million

- General Paving Co Ltd

Location: Trelawny, Kingston and St Andrew

Contract amount: $99 million

Payments: $73 million

- Asphaltic Concrete Enterprise Ltd

Location: St Thomas and Portland

Contract amount: $53 million

Payments: $39 million

-YP Seaton & Associates Co Ltd

Location: Hanover, Westmoreland and St James

Contract amount: $91 million

Payments: $49 million

 

KEY FACTS

 

- Cabinet decision approving de-bushing programme communicated to National Works Agency (NWA) on November 16, 2016.

- Contracts signed November 18, 2016.

- First payments (12 per cent of total contracts) made on November 23, 2016.

- Full $606 million used up with one component of project outstanding.

- Information from document submitted by NWA to Public Administration and Appropriations Committee of Parliament in January 2017.

- Payments were up to December 21, 2016.