Greg Christie was an abject failure

Published: Sunday | December 9, 2012 Comments 0

Colin Campbell, GUEST COLUMNIST

A number of organisations, columnists and public commentators have been engaging in a public orgy of praise and worship for the former contractor general of Jamaica, Greg Christie, who demitted office in November. According to many of these commentators, he has left 'big shoes' to fill. I beg to differ.

Jamaica has had four contractors general since the office was established as an independent commission by the Contractor General Act in 1986. All have been excellent and worthy occupants of the office. Mr Christie wore no bigger shoes than his predecessors. In fact, I found it an affront for the Office of the Contractor General's (OCG) website to refer to him as a "British-trained" lawyer, as if that is a higher pedigree than 'Jamaican trained'.

The first incumbent, Ashton George Wright, was a career civil servant, permanent secretary, diplomat and attorney-at-law. He was one of the pre-Independence public servants along with stalwarts such as G. Arthur Brown, Sir Edgerton Richardson, Don Mills, Herbert Walker and Fi Fi Smith, who helped Jamaica's transition to sovereignty. He was one who profiled the OCG. His book, No Trophies Raise, is available.

Gordon Wells, Jamaica's second contractor general, was a public servant of enormous capacity and legendary integrity, who was strong and fearless, as was demonstrated in the Views Construction case. Mr Wells went on to chair the committee appointed by Prime Minister Michael Manley, which looked at the entire change of culture in Jamaica's system of public administration and which eventually led to the opening up of parliamentary committees to the public and the 2002 Access to Information Act. It was his incumbency that properly 'cut the road' for generations to come.

His successor, Dr Derrick McKoy, one of Jamaica's finest legal minds, provided guidance to ministries and sector agencies which allowed for full understanding of government procurement issues and how to strike the balance between accountability and probity on the one hand, and on the other hand, the need to get on with the business of government.

Dr McKoy was the contractor general who agencies could approach to navigate the complex procurement issues which I verily believe contributed immensely to reductions in breaches.

Then came the incumbency of Mr Christie, which reminds me of the famous quote from Shakespeare's Macbeth: "Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage and then is heard no more: it is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing."

whither his achievements?

It may seem harsh, but can these advocates recite the achievements of Greg Christie? And please don't tell me about his fight against corruption, because Jamaica's position on the corruption index has not improved significantly.

Unlike his predecessors, Greg Christie chose to use the 'special investigation' as the main weapon in his arsenal. So, instead of compiling his annual report as a comprehensive look at the procurement system and 'bawl out' those who needed to be and so orchestrate improvement by his recommendations, he chose, instead, to spend his time compiling 44 special-investigation reports during his seven-year tenure, an average of more than six per year or one every two months. In 2010 alone, he did nine reports.

Mr Christie wasted much resources on the production of these voluminous documents, many of which were motivated by inaccurate media reports, political platform talk, rumours and even a lack of understanding of what he read in some of these reports. No wonder many of them had to be sent by the official prosecutorial authority, the director of public prosecutions, for further investigation, and the others were thrown out as 'insincere' prosecution. And you cannot ignore the vast experience and expertise present in that office.

In terms of his own work output in the OCG, Greg Christie is an abject failure. He is a victim of his own arrogance, egotism and lack of esprit de corps, even within the very government apparatus where he functioned. It would be fascinating to hear the opinions of Jamaica's top civil servants.

He not only failed in his own office, but overreached to infect the entire State, leaving a legacy of inertia, paranoia and risk aversion in the public sector. No one brings a creative approach anymore because of what 'Mr Christie will say'. The Government can no longer discern opportunities, business people are severely limited in making proposals to the Government, and those risking their own capital are treated like criminals trying to rape the system. What sort of a legacy is that? Look at extensive parliamentary debates over Jamaica's two mega projects.

Gov't's job

The Government itself has even gone the route of seeking the court's help to do the work it was elected to do and free itself from Mr Christie's arrogating to himself powers which they say he hath not. The Government should have been bold enough to go to the Parliament instead with the necessary amendments to put everything beyond the peradventure of doubt. Never forget, the Contractor General Act was the creature of Jamaica's one-party Parliament and was passed without the necessary opposition scrutiny and vigorous debate.

Jamaica cannot afford a contractor general trying to fill the shoes of Greg Christie. We are a country in economic crisis trying to attract foreign direct investment and encourage local entrepreneurship, not a country to institutionalise bureaucrats trying to create some legacy for themselves. Try talking to the dozens of local small contractors who were decimated by his incumbency because of his lack of understanding of the local construction sector and his willingness to blame other departments.

Jamaica needs a modern, facilitatory regime for government procurement, contracting and licensing; one which encourages, and, most important, one which clearly differentiates between those seeking government contracts and genuine investors who bring capital and technology to the table.

For God's sake, we are almost in 2013, not the Jamaican cold war political environment of the 1970s and '80s. We need another Greg Christie like we need a hole in the head.

Colin Campbell is a former People's National Party MP and minister of information. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and colincampbell@cwjamaica.com.


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