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Omar fires back

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

Says oversight panel will not be a permanent feature of the contract-approval process

THE MINISTER of transport, works and housing, Dr Omar Davies, has responded to an article published in yesterday's edition of The Sunday Gleaner.

The piece, written by Dr Christopher Tufton was headlined 'When the law is a shackle'.

Tufton, the opposition spokesman on foreign affairs, foreign trade and investment, argued in setting up an oversight panel to oversee the completion of the north-south link of Highway 2000, the Gordon Cay container trans-shipment hub, and the Fort Augusta container terminal, the minister is seeking to get around established rules.

"While his concerns are understandable, the minister may, over time, make matters worse, as he is attempting to establish another set of rules, even though for good reason, to usurp existing rules," Tufton wrote.

He added: "It is a typical position taken by our policymakers in the past. We either change laws in an ad hoc manner to solve immediate challenges or create new ones and institutions to override existing established procedures. The net effect, over time, is administrative bungling from more bureaucracy and inefficiencies." The following is Davies' response:

"It may appear self-serving for me to spend any time commending Dr Tufton on what is a well-reasoned piece and so, I will focus on what may be seen as his criticism of one the steps which have been approved by Cabinet in this instance - the establishment of an independent oversight panel.

"Dr Tufton makes the excellent point that the approach of making ad hoc arrangements to solve immediate challenges is not desirable and leads to "administrative bungling and more bureaucracy and inefficiencies". Rather, Dr Tufton advises, we should be 'looking at the laws that guide procurement and investment decisions, including the creature called the OCG'.

"I hope that it does not come as a surprise when I state that I totally agree with Dr Tufton's comments. In fact, this comprehensive review, which Dr Tufton advocates, is well under way and will benefit from our experience to date, as well as from inputs from all critical stake-holders, as well as from members of the public.

"The administration does not accept the view that any one individual, or institution, has a monopoly on valid concerns about corruption in the public sector

The challenge which we face is that this comprehensive review takes time and the implementation of the three projects, which I have announced, are all time sensitive.

"In terms of the proposed investment in the north-south leg of Highway 2000, there is a narrow window of opportunity for the investor to access a loan of (US)$450 million from the China Development Bank which, incidentally, is the biggest development bank in the world.

"As regards the two proposed port projects, the potential investors have to take decisions which will allow them to build facilities to be ready for the opening of the widened Panama Canal. It is important that the public appreciate that regardless of Jamaica's decision, these companies will be making the investment, somewhere in the Caribbean, to handle the large vessels which the expanded Panama Canal will be able to accommodate.

"While they have given initial priority to Jamaica, they certainly do not intend to wait around for us to sort out our bureaucratic arrangements.

"It is against that background that the independent oversight panel has been established. It will not be a permanent feature of the contract approval process and will be redundant once the overhaul of the procurement process, including legislative changes, is completed.

"While in principle, one may oppose ad hoc decisions, failure to take action which could result in the loss of investment inflows of in excess of (US) $1,250 mil-lion could only be described as irresponsible."