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EDITORIAL - Does Dr Davies resemble Mike Henry?

Published:Friday | March 23, 2012 | 12:00 AM

Nearly as much as anything else, the People's National Party owes its election victory to Omar Davies' zealous pursuit of the previous government's management of the Jamaica Development Infrastructure Programme (JDIP), a Chinese-funded road-rehabilitation scheme.

Mike Henry, the then works minister, couldn't shake a scrappy Dr Davies. It turned out that Dr Davies was right.

JDIP was being horribly managed. Its money was being spent as though by drunken sailors on shore leave without, as the auditor general told us, due regard for the Government's procurement rules.

What a difference a few months seems to have made. Dr Davies now controls the portfolio that used to be Mr Henry's. Among his projects is the Jamaica Emergency Employment Programme (JEEP), in which some of the JDIP, and other, funds have been reallocated to short-term, labour-intensive infrastructure-rehabilitation projects, such as repairing sidewalks and retaining walls, river training, reforestation, and so on.

Provisos for JEEP

In Jamaica's current economic environment, this newspaper has no objection to JEEP. We, however, have two provisos: there must be real, rather than contrived, projects; and taxpayers must get value for money. Second, there must be an absence of corruption in its procurement process and the broader management of JEEP.

Dr Davies had thumpingly promised nothing less, insisting that no similar project has been as well structured or as transparent as JEEP. "I do not know of any programme which has been handled as carefully and within good parliamentary procedure as JEEP," he said.

The foundations of those assertions now seem decidedly unsteady. It has been revealed that Audrey Sewell, the permanent secretary (PS), and, therefore, the accounting officer in Dr Davies' works ministry, is not in the loop.

In a confidential memo, she told Dr Davies of her concern of learning "through the media of the planned launch of the programme (yesterday) and the allocation of $10 million per constituency". She merely wants to be informed about decisions, as she should be.

Still no clarity

Dr Davies waffled in his response. We are still short on clarity. Indeed, a subsequent public statement on behalf of the PS, attempting to soften her complaint, does not fundamentally change anything.

Indeed, no one is surprised that Ms Sewell's revelation should raise a red flag for the contractor general, Greg Christie, who had previously started a probe into JEEP's procurement arrangements.

As for us, Ms Sewell's memo has compounded our concern that parliamentary representatives had been asked to recommend persons for JEEP employment, thus, perhaps, colour-coding jobs orange or green.

The Government may have felt pressured to launch JEEP ahead of Monday's municipal elections, but it need not continue with an ill-prepared project. Dr Davies must show us how, in JEEP, concepts such as transparency and value have substance beyond words.

Mike Henry used to declare JDIP to be open and transparent.

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