Thu | Aug 17, 2017

Contractor General probes $600m bushing programme

Published:Thursday | November 24, 2016 | 11:01 PM
Contractor General Dirk Harrison

Jovan Johnson, Staff Reporter

Contractor General Dirk Harrison has opened a probe into the Government's contentious $600 million bush-clearing work programme that the Opposition People's National Party (PNP) says is being used to 'buy' support for Monday's local government elections.

At the same time, the Prime Minister has reportedly demanded a "full brief" on the programme.

Questions sent to the Office of the Contractor General (OCG) on whether a probe is underway are yet to be answered.

However, communications manager at the National Works Agency (NWA) Stephen Shaw told The Gleaner this afternoon that Harrison has demanded information on the one-week old project.

The NWA is in charge of the programme which the PNP said bypassed its political representatives.

"I know that information has been requested by that office (OCG) and we have been providing same to that office. As to whether an investigation is being done, the OCG will have to answer that," Shaw said.

He added that the first set of information has already been submitted to the anti-corruption body while additional information that has been requested is to be submitted tomorrow.

Shaw declined to state the nature of the information sought. "I don't know that I'm at liberty to indicate. As I said the OCG has requested information and we have been providing the information requested," he said.

In the meantime, the work programme is continuing island wide.

Earlier this afternoon, Holness, through his press secretary, Naomi Francis, indicated that he was trying to get information on the project as the political tensions rise.

That information is expected to inform Holness' response to the Political Ombudsman Donna Parchment Brown who wrote to him on Tuesday demanding information on the bushing programme.

"I have received her letter and asked to be provided with a full brief of the prorgamme by the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Economic Growth and Job Creation and the Chief Executive Office of the National Works Agency,” said Holness who heads the ministry.

He has promised to address the matters raised after being briefed.

The contentious programme was a major issue during last night's televised political debate between representatives of both parties.

The PNP’s Eugene Kelly angered his opponents when he declared that the Holness administration was 'threatening' the country's democracy with the de-bushing programme he called a "vote-buying scheme".

"Rain don't (sic) only fall in JLP constituency. The $600m-vote-buying scheme is a threat to our democracy," he asserted.

Dr Horace Chang, JLP general secretary and minister without portfolio in the growth ministry, has said the timing of the de-bushing work and the elections is "coincidental".

He maintains that the programme is needed, especially in light of the recent heavy rains.

The work programme was never announced and was brought to the public's attention by the PNP in a statement calling for the OCG and Ombudsman to investigate.

jovan.johnson@gleanerjm.com