Thu | Dec 3, 2020

MPs will not select contractors under my leadership – Hanna

Published:Thursday | October 29, 2020 | 12:09 AM
Hanna

STUNG BY a corruption probe in 2017, People’s National Party (PNP) presidential candidate, Lisa Hanna, has declared that a future government led by her would reduce the role of members of parliament (MPs) in selecting contractors for work projects in constituencies.

Hanna, the MP for St Ann South Eastern, escaped criminal charges but was criticised for nepotism and cronyism in the award of $13 million worth of Christmas works contracts in St Ann in ruling by the director of public prosecutions (DPP).

The ruling stemmed from an investigation by the then Office of the Contractor General into 53 directly sourced debushing contracts awarded by the St Ann Municipal Corporation between 2011 and 2015.

In the ruling, delivered to the Integrity Commission in 2019 and obtained and published by The Gleaner in July this year, DPP Paula Llewellyn said while the evidence did not rise to a criminal charge, it could be concluded that the corporation “was being used as a vehicle through which PNP cronies” won contracts.

“Known supporters, associates, or affiliates of the PNP disproportionately benefited,” Llewellyn wrote, referencing Hanna’s admission that the persons were selected because she found them “trustworthy”.

In her first major comment on the decision, which implicated her husband Richard Lake, Hanna noted that the current system allows MPs to select contractors, a point her lawyers had used to argue that any MP could have found themselves in similar problem.

The former Cabinet minister said part of the problem stems from the non-existence of a structure to facilitate the routine debushing, leaving MPs to take up the slack in budgeting for the works and asked to recommend potential contractors.

“Those things have to be consistent so that you have the system in place that can bush those things year round, that it doesn’t damage the roads so that a MP is not the person in charge of overseeing or recommending when and how their constituencies are taken care of from that perspective,” she told a Gleaner Editors’ Forum on October 23, where she proposed that the National Works Agency (NWA) be given the responsibility.

“I came and found that system, and that system has been working for years … It is the agencies themselves that ask the MPs to make the recommendations; every single MP, not only Lisa Hanna,” the MP asserted.

The NWA and municipal corporations are among the state entities that invite contractor recommendations from political representatives for certain works, especially low-skilled projects under $30 million.

‘GOOD SENSE’ REQUIRED

However, E.G Hunter, the NWA’s chief executive officer, said it would be “unhealthy” for MPs to be removed from the selection process given their ‘expansive’ role as more than just lawmakers.

“If you accept that premise … then you conclude that an MP is a legitimate source of feedback from the public,” said Hunter, who insisted that what is required is more ‘good sense’ from stakeholders to recognise their roles in the process.

“I don’t have a professional aversion to an MP making a recommendation because I am confident that in terms of my system, a recommendation is only an opportunity to participate in the process,” he added.

“An MP has no legal status to instruct an employee of, say, the NWA. An NWA employee would have no basis on which to say ‘the MP made a recommendation and I interpreted it as an instruction’,” Hunter argued.

A government MP, who didn’t want to be named, said what happened to Hanna was ‘unfortunate’ because “it could easily have been any of us”.

In July, several lawyers, including a Queen’s Counsel, said the DPP treated Hanna ‘unfairly’ in some of her utterances.

Hanna is in a race with Mark Golding, the St Andrew Southern MP, for the leadership of the fractured opposition party which is trying to assemble itself after the September general election thrashing.

Endorsements from key party functionaries have been growing, with news coming Tuesday that three of the four councillors in Hanna’s constituency are supporting her opponent.

Lamber Weir, who represents the Claremont division, is the latest to join, saying he believes Golding will do a good job at uniting the party.

Hanna and her councillors have had a rough relationship in recent years, with some still harbouring feelings of resentment that she was not their choice of MP when she was selected for the seat in 2002.

Approximately 3,300 delegates of the party will decide the president in a November 7 election.