Thu | Dec 5, 2019

Scrap NET’s role to manage construction projects – Dunn

Published:Thursday | November 21, 2019 | 12:33 AMEdmond Campbell/Senior Parliamentary Reporter

The Holness administration should pull the plug on the technical role of the National Education Trust (NET) to manage major construction projects in schools across the country, a government backbencher and member of Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee (PAC) has said.

Dr Norman Dunn said on Tuesday that NET “should just be disbanded and enhance the technical services department of the Ministry of Education”.

The education ministry carried out repairs, maintenance, and construction of schools, through its Technical Services Department, before delegating the management of major projects to NET in 2010.

Permanent secretary in the education ministry, Dr Grace McLean, sought to defend the work of NET.

She said that the agency carried out a lot of charitable work on behalf of schools, obtaining equipment, furniture and materials for schools from groups overseas.

concentrate on other mandates

However, PAC Chairman Mark Golding said that while NET’s involvement in charity was commendable, he questioned the move to deplete the technical services division’s capacity to effectively monitor construction projects in schools and outsourcing the services to NET.

He said that NET should concentrate on its other mandates.

In her July audit, Pamela Monroe Ellis, the auditor general, highlighted scores of contracts for school repairs done by both NET and the ministry using direct emergency methods. However, for many of these contracts, the auditor general said they did not constitute emergencies.

Quizzed about the decision to use direct emergency contracts without proper justification, McLean conceded that “the ministry’s interpretation of emergency procurement direct contracting may not have been the correct interpretation”.

McLean told PAC members that repairs to 54 schools between 2013 and 2014 were carried out because the institutions “were falling into disrepair. There were buildings with the earth receding and buildings shaking that were termite infested and termites falling on children”.

However, committee member Mikael Phillips said: “Termites don’t come overnight, and the earth does not just move overnight unless an earthquake takes place.”

He wanted to know the methodology used by the ministry to determine which schools are in need of repairs.

McLean said the ministry depends on its director of technical services and building officers to identify schools that are in disrepair. She said that over time, the schools were not consistently repaired or maintained.

In a performance audit on procurement management at the ministry over the five-year period 2013-2014 to 2017-2018, the auditor general reviewed 306 contracts for construction, repairs, and maintenance of schools costing $3.5 billion. She noted that more than a third of this expenditure, $1.3 billion, was used for 22 contracts that were awarded through direct and direct emergency procurements.

For 68 contracts valuing $893 million the education ministry carried out 43 at a cost of $154 million while NET managed 25 contracts totalling $739 million.

edmond.campbell@gleanerjm.com