Tyrone Reid, Senior Staff Reporter
Jamaica's parliamentary opposition has warned that it will resolutely resist any bid to use the impending opportunity to appoint a new contractor general as a means to silence the Office of the Contractor General (OCG) or reduce the oversight of the Government's contract awards process.
With Contractor General Greg Christie firmly in the departure lounge and the almost constant bickering between the OCG and the Portia Simpson Miller-led administration, there are fears that the Government could use the opportunity to appoint a yes-man to the post.
But Opposition Leader Andrew Holness is adamant that the Jamaica Labour Party will not sit back and allow this to happen.
"While I have not yet been consulted by the governor general on a replacement, the nation should rest assured that the Opposition will stoutly resist any attempt to use the appointment of a new contractor general as a means to muzzle and reduce the oversight of the Government by Office of the Contractor General," Holness said in response to Sunday Gleaner queries.
The tough-talking contractor general's seven-year term in office expires on November 30 but he could leave sooner if he decides to take up outstanding vacation leave.
However, Christie is keeping his departure plans close to his chest as he has repeatedly refused to not comment on when he plans to leave office.
"Implicit in the Office of the Leader of the Opposition is the normal expectation that it will act in the best interest of the nation in relation to said consultations. The leader of the opposition in his consultations will have the best interest of the nation at heart," said Holness.
At the same time, Carol Narcisse, chairperson for the Jamaica Civil Society Coalition, called for an unprecedented level of transparency in the appointment of the new contractor general.
"Over time, we have enough reason to want to be assured that the process to replace Christie will be as transparent to the public as possible.
"We note the discomfort that previous and present governments have had (with the OCG). We are calling for a transparent recruitment process, a parliamentary hearing and bipartisan support for the appointee," said Narcisse.
A new standard
She advanced that the OCG under Christie's leadership and tenure has been much more visible to and understood by the public because he has discharged his functions with an understanding that he serves the public and that they must be kept abreast.
"That has set a new standard for how that office and other similar watchdog institutions can operate," she added.
Under Jamaican law, the governor general is vested with the authority to appoint a contractor general after consulting with the prime minister and the leader of the opposition.
No parliamentary hearing is required by law. But, Narcisse believes the OCG is of such importance that it can be used to establish the precedent of holding parliamentary hearings for the appointment new contractors general.
Holness advanced that the new contractor general must continue to strive for the highest level of probity and transparency in public-sector contracting and procurement.
When contacted, the Office of the Governor General refused to comment on the appointment process.
"The process for the appointment of a new contractor general requires consultation between the governor general, the prime minister and the leader of the opposition.
"The Office of the Governor General will not comment on that process; nor will it provide an update on the status of the process, bearing in mind that the contract of the present contractor general expires in November," read a section of a response to Sunday Gleaner queries.
Asked if Sir Patrick Allen could give Jamaicans an assurance that he would support the appointment of a successor to Christie who would be equally as fearless in the execution of his mandate, the Office of the Governor General said it would be guided by the provisions of the Contractor General Act.
Meanwhile, Christie told The Sunday Gleaner that his planned departure has not changed.
"Everything remains. I have no intention of either seeking or accepting an extension of my term in office," he said.
However, Christie made it clear that he was not on holiday. "I am in office and I'm on the job and I look forward to going to work every morning to get the job done."
Christie had no comment on the exact date of his departure but added that it was truly an honour to have been contractor general for approximately seven years.
"It's a job that I feel extremely privileged and honoured to have held and continue to hold," he said.