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Nembhard not perturbed by audit

Published:Monday | April 30, 2012 | 12:00 AM

Daraine Luton, Senior Staff Reporter

FORMER CHAIRMAN of the National Irrigation Commission (NIC), Oliver Nembhard, has declared that he is not worried about an audit of the entity that is now under way.

Last Tuesday, Agriculture Minister Roger Clarke, in a statement to the House of Representatives, raised questions about the implementation of the National Irrigation Development Programme (NIDP).

"As we speak, a complete audit of the National Irrigation Commission is being done. I don't want to pre-empt. I have been kept up to date on some of the findings," Clarke said.

The minister, who was responding to questions raised by his opposition counterpart, J.C. Hutchinson, also said, "I ask, don't pull my tongue."

But Nembhard, in an interview with The Gleaner on Friday, said the audit will not cause him sleepless nights.

"If it is a financial audit, I have absolutely no concern," Nembhard said.

"Almost every year that I was there, we were audited by the auditor general," he added.

Nembhard was the campaign director for Dr Christopher Tufton when he won South West St Elizabeth in the 2007 general election.

Asked whether the pronouncement in Parliament may be politically motivated, Nembhard said he was unsure.

"The minister is somebody I have known for many many years and I would hope that he would not be insinuating any kind of wrongdoing on my part knowing that he knows of me."

When he addressed the House last week, Clarke said the implementation of the programme has been riddled with delays and mishaps.

"The engineer who was in charge to see completion in 2010, that particular person was removed and new personnel put in place. As a matter of fact, the chairman of the National Irrigation Commission played a very critical role in the implementation of the programme," Clarke said, while urging Hutchinson "not to press".

"The management of the programme was significantly weakened in 2008 when the project administration was restructured by the then Government, and relatively inexperienced people in project management was put in place," Clarke told the House.

Delays compounded

He pointed, for example, at the case of the New Forest/Duff House project where three incorrect pumps were purchased.

"Not only has this compounded the delays, but will cost the Government an additional $58 million to order two new pumps," the minister said.

Clarke announced that disciplinary measures, in accordance with proper industrial-relations protocol to ensure that negligent persons engaged in the implementation of the programme are appropriately sanctioned.

The minister said one of the weaknesses in the management of the project is that two employees with substantive posts within the NIC were seconded to the project.

"These two were removed from the project, with one resigning and the second reverted to his substantive post."

"A third project manager has been terminated," the minister said.

Clarke argued that the country will never be able to lift the level of agricultural production and competitiveness unless there is access to irrigation.

"Rain-fed agriculture cannot get us where we want. It is for this reason that the ministry will redouble its efforts to mobilise funding for the continued implementation of the NIDP," Clarke said.

daraine.luton@gleanerjm.com