Gary Spaulding, Senior Gleaner Writer
Senior Government officials and representatives of local contractor YP Seaton have reportedly set aside time on the weekend to devise strategies aimed at staving off emerging complications that could cast into disarray the problem-plagued airport project.
A Sunday Gleaner probe has revealed that a letter, alleging threats to life and property by some Jamaicans made on Chinese expatriates, dispatched to the police by Transport and Works Minister Mike Henry, is merely the tip of the iceberg.
A well-placed source at the Palisadoes Shoreline Protection and Rehabilitation Works projects told The Sunday Gleaner that at the heart of the dispute is the failure of sub-contractors to pay over money to both legitimate workers and extortionists as they have not received any payment for more than a month from the contractor, YP Seaton Limited.
This is due to a $5-million anomaly that has emerged, forcing China Harbour to hold back payments to YP Seaton.
It is understood that the fees that have been set by YP Seaton were low to begin with, prompting sluggish work on the site and creating scheduling problems since it started last year.
The letter, dated September 8, which was sent by the China Harbour Engineering Company to the chief executive officer of the National Works Agency (NWA), Patrick Wong, alleged that men went to its office and threatened to stop the work if their demands were not met.
A worker on the site confirmed that a well-known individual with strong political ties is at the heart of the problems affecting the project.
The letter also stated that the men threatened to "fire shots" and disconnect the electricity supply.
They complained that they are forced to find work for Jamaicans when no work is available for their own Chinese workers.
A Jamaican, who is closely attached to the project, told The Sunday Gleaner that many of the Chinese are high-skilled engineers who are prepared to do menial work as is their custom.
The Chinese alleged that the men are demanding subcontract works, and in so doing presented high quotations, which are beyond China Harbour's budget.
China Harbour maintained that it would not compromise the quality of the projects even in the face of the threats to its workers. "As the main contractor, we have the right to do all the works by ourselves or choose qualified contractors."
The Sunday Gleaner was also informed that a Chinese expatriate was unceremoniously collared as the hoodlums sought to make their presence felt.
Henry confirmed the Sunday Gleaner findings that China Harbour has taken a portion of the elaborate project as it was lagging behind schedule.
Cause of slowdown
The slowdown on the already behind-schedule project is as a result of subcontractors and suppliers being forced to hold back as they had not been paid for more than a month.
Liaison officers on the project, who reportedly represent local workers, raised concerns that Chinese expatriates were doing the work of Jamaicans.
Henry said he was not certain that the people being represented are duly unionised under law.
The minister told The Sunday Gleaner that he had forwarded to the police a letter he received from the NWA, which suggests that the situation is reeling out of control.
"The contractor said they are coming under severe threat," Henry told The Sunday Gleaner.
He also referred to allegations of acts of extortion and threats to sabotage the project. "They threatened that they will cut off the electricity and shoot people if their demands are not met."
The minister told The Sunday Gleaner that the letter fingered local persons, who he described as liaison officers, as the main culprits threatening the Chinese.
Henry confirmed Sunday Gleaner findings that China Harbour intervened last week to assist local subcontractor YP Seaton in order to eliminate the backlog of work that exists.
A well-placed source said the intervention of China Harbour has influenced more than a $5-million anomaly in the programme.
"There are differences over the quality of work done to the amount being paid out," said the source. "China Harbour is of the view that the figures are not corresponding."
As efforts were made to address the problem, China Harbour ceased paying out funds, moved in, and took over one-third of the project in an effort to bring it back in line.
The subcontractors were not paid, infuriating local workers. "For more than a month, no sub-contractor was paid, and that filtered down to legitimate workers, as well as the thugs," the Sunday Gleaner source revealed.
"This development slowed the progress of workers to extreme proportions because suppliers and subcontractors failed to perform without the payments due to them," the source said. "Recognising the slow progress, the Chinese stepped in to mitigate the lag in schedule."
However, this arrangement did not go down well with unions representing local workers who accused China Harbour of bringing in its batch of workers to speed up the process.
"They work at a different pace," Henry told The Sunday Gleaner. "What the Chinese do with these workers is part of the bilateral arrangement. For our part, we have always tried to maximise local labour."