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PNP cries foul! - Opposition upset over Government’s plan to spend $91m on road work in Derrick Smith’s constituency where a by-election is pending

Published:Saturday | January 27, 2018 | 12:00 AMErica Virtue
Derrick Smith (centre) with his supporters from St Andrew North West, including his son, Duane (left), on Nomination Day 2016.

Chairman of the Public Administration and Appropriations Committee (PAAC) Dr Wykeham McNeill last Wednesday called on the Andrew Holness administration to stop playing politics with the roadwork programme under way islandwide as a result of a rainy 2017.

McNeill a People's National Party (PNP) vice-president was upset after the National Works Agency (NWA) presented its road-activity programme in the First Supplementary Estimates of Expenditure for the 2017-2018 fiscal year.

The programme allocates $91 million for road repairs in St Andrew North West, the constituency that is poised for a by-election following the resignation of its representative, the Jamaica Labour Party's (JLP) Derrick Smith.

Roads to be fixed in Smith's old constituency include Pembroke Hall Drive, Stars Way, Duhaney Park, Pleasant Valley Road, Pembroke Hall Street, and Ken Hill Drive.

A further $10 million is allocated for Duhaney Drive, which borders Smith's constituency, and St Andrew Western, which is represented by the PNP's Anthony Hylton.

"There will always be a need to fix roads when there are emergencies. But in the general sense, if people feel there is some equity ... today, we have had discussions that opposition constituencies get a third of allocations and the government gets two-thirds.

"The fact of the matter is that persons across the length and breadth of the island pay taxes. It is not about who is their MP. It's about them as taxpayers. And it is unfortunate when you then penalise somebody for how they voted," said McNeill.

"I have a rural constituency. And there are 63 constituencies. To date, in two years of this programme, my total expenditure is $5 million. I just don't know how we justified that given that Westmoreland is known for rain," added McNeill.

As government MP Juliet Holness, who spoke earlier, tried to interrupt him, McNeill insisted on finishing his comments.

"Please let me finish. Please. Secondly, member, and I think it is something that has been passed over. But we have got to address this issue as we were having our deliberations here re the bushing sometime ago.

"It is an unfortunate thing when as a country, it is now becoming a norm for persons to say when you have a by-election, you get some sort of expenditure," stated McNeill.

According to the PAAC chairman, the concerns raised about the multiple hundreds of million-dollar debushing programmes were on full display in St Mary South East, where the recent by-election took place.

"As was mentioned here, you have a by-election coming in member Smith's constituency, and all of a sudden, there is a $100-million expenditure. I am saying to you, these things will continue to be of concern to Jamaica and Jamaicans - that our electoral process is not being wrongly influenced by government expenditure until we put proper mechanism in place that allows for things to be done properly.

"We at this committee, PAAC, our job is to find ways to recommend to parliament procedures that we can allow for that. So I am suggesting that at the end of this, we ask the clerk to make our recommendation and include in them what we need to do to ensure that this perception is taken out of the minds of people," added McNeill.

But Holness countered as she argued that for 18 and a half years, Mps on her side could have had the same complaints as McNeill.

"I believe a good way to get that balance back is for the NWA to look at the road network and remove roads that are already fixed. It wouldn't have mattered if it was repaired under JLP or PNP because we would have taken out of that road network what is good.

"And that would allow us to have an equitable arrangement of spreading it across the board regardless of who represents the respective seats," added Mrs Holness.