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A contract with corruption

Published:Monday | November 22, 2010 | 12:00 AM
Contractor General Greg Christie - FILE

THE CABINET has moved to separate the National Contracts Commission (NCC) from the Office of the Contractor General (OCG). There has always been a legal separation of these entities, but the NCC has depended on the contractor general's office for administrative support.

The Gavel, though, is uncomfortable with the separation because it comes at a time when the Cabinet is proposing, according to Greg Christie, a three-month moratorium for contractors who are due to be re-registered. The OCG would have nothing to do with this process as the office would give up its oversight responsibility in the monitoring of the certification of contractors. We believe that if Christie is truthful when he says the contractor-registration process is riddled with corruption, the Cabinet decision would be further facilitating this process.

Christie has been telling a joint select committee of Parliament that contractors falsify documents about their technical staff and their capacity to perform jobs in an attempt to be registered for multi-million dollar contracts. But when these contractors get these jobs they are often ill-equipped to carry out the task, results in cost overruns, poor work for which the taxpayers have to pay to do all over again, and loss of lives.

During last week's committee sitting, Senator Warren Newby posited that the Cabinet decision could be intended to stimulate the construction sector. We have no idea where he was going with his suggestion, but we humbly suggest he could be misguided as it is dangerous and counterproductive to allow incompetent persons to carry out works contracts for a day, let alone three months.

It was only last week that Christie told Parliament that Ronham and Associates Limited, the company that was executing a National Water Commission pipe-laying project on Barbican Road in upper St Andrew, where a man died recently, was not registered by the NCC at the time of the incident.

Christie told a parliamentary committee Thursday that the company was registered with the NCC when it won the contract in 2008, but was subsequently delisted. According to the contractor general, "The professional staff which they asserted they have on staff, they don't have on staff".

Though we make no judgement about the direct cause of the accident, it is our submission that if Cabinet grants the proposed moratorium to contractors it would be disregarding the price Kirk Vernon and Orlando Bennett paid with their lives, after walls of a trench being built by Ronham and Associates Limited collapsed, trapping them under a mountain of dirt.

US$400-million project

Jamaica is about to embark on the largest infrastructure improvement programme with the Jamaica Infrastructure Development Project on which US$400 million, borrowed on behalf of the taxpayers, is being spent. One wonders if there is any link between the roll-out of this programme and the desire of Cabinet to have that three-month moratorium which would ensure jobs for the boys. We hope this is not the case, because we cannot afford to have unqualified contractors repairing or building our roads, bridges and walls.

It has been estimated that a vast percentage of deaths in major earthquake areas is a result of poor workmanship and corruption in works contracts. Jamaica sits on an earthquake fault line, and it is therefore important that our construction projects be done according to best practices. Certainly, we believe there is a need to kick-start the economy that has not seen growth in 13 quarters, but the last stimulus Jamaica needs is a window from the Cabinet which allows corrupt, incompetent contractors to reign until they get their house in order.

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