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EDITORIAL - A measured dialogue on procurement

Published:Monday | December 24, 2012 | 12:00 AM

Whatever you thought about the style of Greg Christie, lately the contractor general, you had to admire his crusade against corruption and his tenacity in ensuring that public officers follow the Government's procurement rules.

Any success he achieved was due, in significant part, to Christie's use of the media to lift the profile of the Office of the Contractor General (OCG) and his willingness to speak often, and loudly, against breaches, real or perceived, of the rules. He cared naught about who may be offended. No one could claim that he was partisan.

This newspaper, as we have said before, believes that, on balance, Greg Christie was good for Jamaica. His permanent replacement should be someone of similar fearlessness and integrity.

But recently, there has been a bit of a backlash against Christie's style, with claims that his frequent public pronouncements of alleged policy infringements induced fear and paralysis in public officials, to the point that he stymied action and slowed economic activity. No one wanted to be called out by Greg Christie. Christie's response often was that he merely enforced the procurement regulations and operated in accordance with the law that established his office.

Whatever the merits of arguments either way, this newspaper supports the call for a full and reasoned conversation on the procurement regulations and for these to be amended, if deemed necessary.

But this discussion has to be fully transparent, with full opportunity for participation by the Jamaican people, which is intended in a review of the procurement regulations announced by the commerce minister, Anthony Hylton.

Hylton did not say this. Neither did he indicate a mechanism for the public participation in, or influence in the discussions.

He did say: "The role of the OCG ... in the matter of contracting and procurement is one that is being currently looked at because it is clear that that has been part of the burden on the pace of business."

Craig Beresford, who now acts as the contractor general disagrees. The OCG described Hylton's remarks as "careless and reckless".

Make public officials accountable

We do not believe the tone of Beresford's statement, or whoever at the OCG they may be attributable to, is particularly helpful. We, like Beresford, and the vast majority of Jamaicans, are against corruption and wish for rules and oversight that make public officials accountable.

But that should not mean straightjacketing the public sector or that the rules and/or the agency that polices them should be beyond review, even it ends with maintenance of the status quo.

The point is, this newspaper believes that Jamaicans deserve the best of all worlds: procurement regulations that hold public servants to account, but yet do not deter action and economic activity, and oversight that is independent and robust without being stifling.

We would urge all parties to engage in a measured, fact-based dialogue. We suggest, therefore, a recalibration of language, lest we start with hardened positions and become stuck in them. The losers will be the Jamaican people.

The opinions on this page, except for the above, do not necessarily reflect the views of The Gleaner. To respond to a Gleaner editorial, email us: or fax: 922-6223. Responses should be no longer than 400 words. Not all responses will be published.