Livern Barrett, Gleaner Writer
For the second time in just over three years, Jamaica has secured a multibillion-dollar infrastructure development programme with China, a government insider has revealed.
The US$300-million agreement was negotiated by Works Minister Dr Omar Davies during his visit to China last month, according to the government source.
In February 2010, Jamaica signed a US$340-million loan agreement with China Exim Bank. Those funds, along with US$60 million provided by the Jamaican Government, were used to finance the controversial Jamaica Development Infrastructure Programme (JDIP).
Davies confirmed yesterday that an infrastructure development project would be "an integral part" of the 2013-2014 Budget, but declined to discuss the details.
"I have heard those numbers," he responded when asked about the new multibillion-dollar agreement with China.
"Let me put it this way, my trip to China achieved all I went for and a bit more," he added.
But Davies bristled at suggestions that the new project would be 'JDIP part two', insisting that any project to be undertaken by the current administration would be handled in a far more "transparent" manner.
"JDIP is not a word I would be using ... the connotations are not good. JDIP was characterised by too many unanswered questions or issues which created concerns about the implementation of government projects," Davies said.
"Let me just indicate that any new project is going to be properly handled ... it is going to be brought through the Budget and it will be totally transparent," he insisted.
Added Davies: "Anything I will be doing, I want to ensure that in the future, the transparency which the Parliament should be accorded, it is accorded."
Speaking in Parliament last January, nearly two years after the JDIP loan agreement was signed with China Exim Bank, Davies disclosed that almost all the funds earmarked for the projects had been used up.
Davies said his investigations, since taking over as works minister, have shown that work orders for which payments have been committed, as well as certified payment for work orders, totalled US$398 million.
This means that only US$1.8 million remains to fund the US$400-million road programme.
An audit report produced by the Auditor General's Department found that the programme has been characterised by numerous breaches.
From unaccounted to unapproved spending and the withholding of information from the auditors, the report raised serious concerns about the JDIP.
In one of the more damning findings, Auditor General Pamela Monroe Ellis said her team found that the Road Maintenance Fund could not identify any work to account for a $23.2-million road project, which the National Works Agency (NWA) had certified as being satisfactorily completed.
At the same time, she found that the NWA used $102 million in JDIP money to refurbish its offices.
But the biggest concern for Davies was the fact that the JDIP was omitted from the national Budget by the then administration.
"For a project that was the biggest government-sponsored infrastructure project to have been deliberately kept out of the Budget ... is a fundamental violation of the role of Parliament," the works minister asserted.
"Why would the biggest project be routed through the Road Maintenance Fund?" he questioned.
Davies said these concerns were not raised during his recent discussions with the Chinese.