One year too long - PM laments tedious delays in procurement practices
Prime Minister Andrew Holness wants forward planning for procurement in place to lessen the time spent engaging the gears of bureaucracy.
Holness was speaking on Thursday at the commissioning of a $33-million, 110-ft-long bridge spanning the Wag Water River and which links Airy Castle, Bowden Hill, and Stony Hill in the St Andrew West Rural constituency represented by Juliet Cuthbert-Flynn.
The prime minister bemoaned that it took a year for the bridge to be installed despite his understanding that the parts were already in the island at the National Works Agency.
He said that the construction of the bridge was not particularly complex and that the completion of the work should not have been bogged down by technicalities.
“What we need to start doing as a society is to start planning for procurement. The truth is that in any other country, we would not be waiting until the bridge collapses because I gather this bridge is almost 70 years old,” Holness said.
“... What really should have happened is that before the bridge collapsed, our economy should be revving so much that we have the revenue to say, ‘Take down this bridge, expand it, and put a bigger bridge with walk-foot capacity on it’.”
Jamaica’s procurement of goods and services is often stifled by red tape and cultural lethargy, but the reams of paperwork and layers of oversight are often geared at curbing and catching graft.
The island was ranked in the 2019 Corruption Perception Index as the fourth most corrupt state among Caribbean countries, behind Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago, and Haiti.
With a score of 43, Jamaica’s ranking dipped sharply from 70 to 74 out of 180 countries.
But after a year of much displeasure, Bowden Hill residents can now breathe a sigh of relief knowing that the bridge is once again open to them.
Kingston-based Chin’s Construction won the tender to construct the bridge.
Latoya Liscombe, whose house is a few metres away from the bridge, could not hide her joy as she strolled across moments before the commissioning.
“This is the best thing to happen here in a while. Can you imagine how important it is to get this bridge back up and running?” she said.
“I used to walk several miles around on the alternative route, and sometimes I would go further up and cross the river, but when it comes down, I am stranded. So yes, I am happy,” Liscombe said.
The principal of Bowden Hill Primary and Infant School, Nathalee Brown-Nicely, was also elated.
She said that the parents of some students began sending the children elsewhere to avoid using the longer route around the then under-construction bridge. She is hopeful that the new bridge will renew interest in the school.
Bowden Hill Primary and Infant School accommodates 70 students and four teachers.
“I am very excited about that because before, we had to use another route, and it was really a bad road. We lost a number of our students whose parents decided to send them elsewhere because it was not nice travelling around the other road,” Brown-Nicely said.
She said the loss of the bridge created unwanted stress for her and the residents of the area.
“I have lost tyres using the other route also. So I am happy that we now have a new, strong bridge to take us across the river,” Brown-Nicely said.
Wayne Manning, 77, said that he was relieved, as the Wag Water River could “be a beast” when it is in spate.
“I am now very happy about this. I think the prime minister did well, and we now have a strong bridge to take me over this beast of a river when it is flooded,” the elderly man said.
There are some 870 bridges across Jamaica that are assessed by the NWA once every three years to ensure conformity with industry standards.