Slow JEEP payments worry MPs
Daraine Luton, Senior Staff Reporter
WORKERS are being kept at bay by political representatives, particularly members of parliament, from attacking sub-contractors for payment for work done under the Jamaica Emergency Employment Programme (JEEP), Central Clarendon MP Mike Henry has said.
"We have to be holding off people from wanting to slay contractors because they think they have been paid and gone with the money," Henry said.
Henry, speaking at Wednesday's sitting of the Public Administration and Appropriations Committee of Parliament, said sub-contractors have been waiting for up to four months for payment for work done under the JEEP.
"It is unfair to the Government and to everything," Henry, an opposition MP said.
He noted that the JEEP was set up as a vehicle to ease chronic unemployment in the country and to give smaller contractors an opportunity to benefit from the implementation of infrastructure projects.
Work under JEEP is facilitated through the Major Infrastructure Development Programme (MIDP), which is a US$352.9 million undertaking made possible by a Preferential Buyer's Credit facility from the Government of China through the China Export-Import (Ex-Im) Bank in the amount of US$300 million. The Government of Jamaica's contribution is US$52.9 million.
China Harbour Engineering Company (CHEC) is the main contractor, and it engages sub-contractors on jobs, but according to Henry, it has taken up to 21 weeks for persons to get pay. He said the situation is a threat to the lives of sub-contractors and that it impacts on the viability of their businesses.
Earl Patterson, senior director of the National Works Agency (NWA), told a parliamentary committee that CHEC has been told by NWA that "you have the money there; you don't have to wait for it to come back from China".
Committee member Audley Shaw said that it is "entirely unacceptable for small contractors to do the work and wait three to four months for payment".
At the launch of this the third phase of JEEP, works minister Dr Omar Davies said that all local sub-contractors would be paid from a revolving fund established by CHEC and administered jointly with the NWA to ensure timely remit to sub-contractors.
"As regards the JEEP contractors, a fund of US$2 million will be established and that should be adequate to keep the project moving smoothly," Davies said.
However, under questioning from Richard Parchment, MP for South East St Elizabeth, on the US$2 million which was set aside for orderly payment, Patterson said CHEC has been reluctant to follow through on that agreement.
"What we have been asking them is to honour the payment vouchers within 10 days of being submitted to them," Patterson said.
"We have been pushing the main contractor ... . The deal is that when we put in these payment vouchers with all the supporting documentation, we need to turn them around much more quickly. It has started off slowly. I would wish to opine that at this point in time, they are reacting positively," Patterson said.
Payments have been made for 78 per cent of work done under the $693-million programme, Patterson said.