MR PATRICK Wong's continued leadership of the National Works Agency (NWA) is untenable.
The decent thing for him to do in the face of the findings of the auditor general's investigation into the management of the Jamaica Development Infrastructure Programme (JDIP) - the multibillion-dollar road and drainage rehabilitation project being financed with Chinese money - is to resign with immediate effect, or be removed for failing in his fiduciary responsibility.
We, at this time, suspend judgement on the minister of transport and works, Mr Mike Henry, under whose portfolio JDIP and the NWA fall. But Mr Henry must, with urgency, provide to Parliament exculpatory evidence that he was not party to the lack of effective oversight, gross negligence and/or incompetence that, based on the findings of the auditor general, have so far attended JDIP.
In the meantime, Prime Minister Andrew Holness must forthwith remove control of JDIP from Mr Henry's ministry, and ensure that it operates, where feasible, in accordance with the Government's procurement guidelines and with the transparency that was promised by his predecessor, Mr Bruce Golding. The programme should be suspended until these changes are implemented.
Consideration to chinese gov't
We do not make these recommendations lightly, being fully appreciative of the potential for misunderstanding and embarrassment of our financing partner of JDIP, the Chinese government, one of whose firms, China Harbour Engineering Company (CHEC), is the sole contractor to the programme.
We believe that the Chinese authorities are well aware of the esteem with which Jamaicans view relations between Kingston and Beijing, and their support for the expanding economic cooperation between our two countries.
But the Chinese will be equally pragmatic about the need for the Jamaican Government to get the utmost value for the money it spends on behalf of taxpayers who, in the final analysis, will have to repay the US$340 million borrowed from China's EXIM Bank for the programme. And that, according to Mrs Pamela Monroe Ellis, the auditor general, is extremely hard to ascertain, if not patently in doubt.
No explanation forthcoming
What is particularly egregious in this regard was the failure of Mr Wong's NWA, in the face of scrutiny, to provide the auditor general, either because of deliberate obfuscation or sheer mismanagement, with the bases for the supposed market-related assessments that informed the pricing of its various contracts with CHEC. "... The NWA failed to provide 19 of the 25 engineer's estimates we requested to determine whether the contract prices were fair and reasonable," she said.
But this was not all of Mrs Monroe Ellis' concerns. She highlighted a plethora of instances of poor and, perhaps, inept planning by the NWA of projects to be undertaken under JDIP; lack of quality control by the agency; a seemingly loose, despite the requirements of their formal contract, operational arrangement between the NWA and CHEC; poor accounting for government resources; a haphazard approach to spending and procurement, including the award of contracts and laxity in oversight of the Ministry of Transport and Works.
It is sad that it has come to this. For JDIP is, on paper, a worthy project, especially given Jamaica's badly deteriorated infrastructure. But from its start, it was clear that there was potential for great abuse, as a source of political pork, or leakages for other reasons. The warnings were not heeded.
A tourniquet must now be applied before the bleeding grows worse.