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Shaw defends costly roadwork

Published:Sunday | June 5, 2011 | 12:00 AM

Christopher Serju, Gleaner Writer

Minister of Finance and the Public Service, Audley Shaw, has sought to allay concerns raised about overspending on a roadway in his constituency and promised full transparency with regards to road-rehabilitation projects which fall under the Jamaica Development Infrastructure Programme (JDIP).

The minister, who was addressing the audience at Kia Motors' 2011 Sorento and Sportage launch on Thursday, said he has toured the project so he could have first-hand knowledge as to what was happening.

"Today, I went to my constituency because I wanted to have a look at the new road in Christiana, about which The Gleaner Company - thanks to my good friend, Senator Wykeham McNeill - has decided to make an issue," he said.

'High-cost Road'

The member of parliament for North East Manchester was making reference to Thursday Gleaner's lead story, 'High-cost road', in which McNeill, (chairman of the Public Administration and Appropria-tions Committee of Parliament), expressed shock at the $800m price tag for the one-kilometre roadway.

"When I listen to Wykeham McNeill saying: 'Imagine, one little road being repaired at a cost of US$8.9 million? A little road - one kilometre in length - costing US$8.9 million', I want to point out to him and the people of Jamaica that first of all, it is not a road-repair job. The road is being constructed," he told his audience.

Project details

On Friday afternoon, however, the Office of the Contractor General (OCG) wrote to Patrick Wong, the chief executive officer of the National Works Agency, requiring him to provide detailed project particulars regarding the reported construction of the Christiana roadway.

Among the information sought by the OCG are: the original contract sum for the project; a list of any project variations and the requisite approvals; the name(s) of the sub contractor(s) that were selected to work on the project; and, a copy of the work order highlighting the start up and completion dates.

Shaw said repairs to that particular roadway were abandoned in the 1970s because of problems associated with the clay soil. However, with advances in technology those problems could now be addressed, albeit at a significant cost.

"It's a development road to expand the town of Christiana and it is about one kilometre in length. But it involves the construction of two bridges, the acquisition of land costing about $150 to $160 million and tremendous technology, to make sure that the road has the integrity to make it an outstanding quality of work."

Open and upfront

Shaw, a former Public Accounts Committee chairman, said unlike previous road projects which have used deferred-financing schemes that came to Parliament two or three years after for the bill to be paid, the present road project was different.

"Everything is open and upfront now. And, one of the things that I am satisfied about is that adequate funds are being made available for repair to be done to each road to ensure that proper drainage is put in place, and there is proper construction, so that those roads can stand up to the normal stresses of bad weather, that is inevitable," he said.

The finance minister said he would ensure that all spending under the JDIP project be made public.

The JDIP is a five-year project funded by the government of China. The project will see the allocation of J$36 billion to restore major and parochial roads, bridges and walls, as well as periodic maintenance.

"This year, several major bridges have been constructed and 153 roads are to be constructed. One of the things I, as minister of finance, am going to instruct, is that all of the information be made available in Parliament, such as the technical specifications that attend these projects, the amount of money that is being spent, so details can be properly declared to the people of Jamaica," he said.

The minister said he would soon be planning a media tour of the roadway under construction.

"I'm telling Wykeham now that I'm planning a media tour and I want him to be my special guest, so he can come and look at the high quality of work that is being carried out there by the contracting company, China Harbour.

"I'm very, very pleased and proud of the quality work that is taking place on that development road," he added.