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Bush war - PNP, JLP in row over who benefited more from clean-up programme

Published:Thursday | June 29, 2017 | 12:00 AMJovan Johnson
Dirk Harrison

Most of the work under the controversial debushing programme last year was carried out prior to the local government election constituencies represented by the Opposition People's National Party (PNP), according to a report by the Office of the Contractor General (OCG).

But in its response, the PNP, which called for the probe, contended that its constituencies benefited more because of the "brazen attempt to bribe PNP voters". "The OCG report clearly lays the basis for further investigation of charges of corruption and misappropriation of public funds."

The ruling Jamaica Labour Party, though, has dismissed that, saying that the OCG's report "did not find any corruption in the programme".

The Opposition had accused the Andrew Holness administration of using the $600-million project to "buy" support for November's municipal elections.

But Contractor General Dirk Harrison, in his special-investigation report, said that more than half (55 per cent) of the debushing works took place in constituencies represented by the opposition party.

"The debushing and drain-cleaning works were contracted in approximately 425 locations, for which the member of parliament is affiliated with the Jamaica Labour Party. [The] debushing and drain-cleaning works were contracted in approximately 506 locations, for which the member of parliament is affiliated with the People's National Party," read the report tabled on Wednesday in the House of Representatives.

The OCG, however, said that the figures "are not indicative" of the value of the debushing and drain-cleaning works, which were conducted in the areas specified in the bills of quantities. "In addition, there were variations in relation to the locations where debushing and drain-cleaning works were executed, and in some cases, no work had been executed in certain areas specified in the bills of quantities."

The OCG report said that government contracts and the utilisation of public funds should be guided by principles of "fairness, equity, transparency, integrity, and accountability". It added that the issue of political parties, therefore, "ought not to arise".

In the meantime, JLP General Secretary Dr Horace Chang said that the report cleared up "misinformation" surrounding the project, which, he said, was "executed based on need and not on any political considerations".

The Government has argued that rains in the weeks leading up to November forced the implementation of the project.

Regarding the conclusion by the OCG that the project was a "deviation" from the Government's procurement guidelines, Chang said that the administration noted the recommendations and "would examine the report in detail and give it the consideration it deserves".

Harrison had also concluded in the report that three government ministers might have lied about their roles in selecting contractors, subcontractors, and setting payment terms in the execution of the project.

The report said that engineer Vincent Taylor, who heads Construction Solutions Ltd, gave evidence that Shahine Robinson, Andrew Wheatley, and Robert Montague influenced how workers were hired, paid, and the amounts paid out.

The ministers denied the allegation.

"In this regard, the OCG can only reasonably conclude that either the Hon Members of Parliament Mrs Shahine Robinson, Dr Andrew Wheatley, and Mr Robert Montague are mendacious in their representations or that Mr Taylor is being insincere."