When the auditor general, Pamela Monroe-Ellis, issued a report on the Jamaica Development Infrastructure Programme (JDIP), we concluded that it was being run like drunken sailors on shore leave. Nothing in the forensic audit by the risk consultants, Kroll, would cause us to change the metaphor.
We know, of course, that much will be made of the fact that Kroll did not identify any specific act of dishonesty by public officials involved in the programme being financed by a US$400-million loan from China.
But there are plenty of instances where the norms of project management and good governance were ignored and/or bypassed to such an extent for the behaviour to be deemed, in our view, reckless, wanton and high-handed. It was beyond negligence or incompetence.
Wong in the wrong
Patrick Wong, who was fired as chief executive officer of the National Works Agency (NWA), which oversees JDIP, seems to have been the main culprit.
Mr Wong appeared to have unilaterally varied contracts, and approved spending as though the cash was available merely by the turn of spigot. He may also have engaged in a conflict of interest, if not nepotism. Computer files, the Kroll report indicates, suggest that he advised his son on the development of a contract to provide legal services to China Harbour Engineering Company, the company that is the NWA's main contractor on JDIP.
The management recklessness at the NWA was compounded by the fact that Patrick Wong's agency was not structured to manage a project of the magnitude of JDIP, inclusive of the separate, but related, Palisadoes airport road. Nor, it seems, did the agency's managers recognise the weaknesses or felt them sufficiently critical to try to fix them.
While Patrick Wong is the central character captured in this fiasco, we feel legitimate questions must be asked about the authority on which he operated.
Was it wong alone who was wrong?
While the NWA is an executive agency, with significant autonomy, it is/was not an independent body accountable to itself, or to Patrick Wong.
The NWA acts on behalf of the Jamaican Government, reporting to, and interfacing, with the transport and works ministry, headed by a minister who is supposed to provide policy direction, and a permanent secretary, who is in charge of operational matters.
It is important to determine whether Mr Wong was off on a frolic of his own, and if so, why his management weaknesses - if that is what they were - were not identified by those to whom he reported. Many people will question, too, how an official at an agency could, as it seems, so casually implement, if not make up, policy as the project sauntered on.
Further, US$400 million is a lot of money - around more than three and a half per cent of Jamaica's national output. And it is borrowed money.
In that regard, you would have expected that the finance ministry was keeping a close watch on spending. It appears that was not the case with JDIP.
The JDIP fiasco highlights the need, as Kroll points out, for the strengthening of the NWA, as well as the management systems in other government ministries, agencies and departments. If any laws were broken in JDIP, the chips should be allowed to fall where they will.
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