JEEP policymakers treating the contractor general with disdain



Sunday, April 01, 2012    

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AT the PNP's annual conference in September last year, the Jamaica Emergency Employment Programme (JEEP) was announced and immediately it took on a life of its own as the PNP's proposal to provide jobs for the many thousands of unemployed young people in the society.

At the time it was proposed, no numbers were provided, neither was there any idea of the duration, considering that 'emergency' in the proposal was highlighted. Of course, coming from a political platform, especially from a party in Opposition, there was also no indication as to source of funding of the programme.

Prior to the September 2007 elections the JLP had done its bit of political promises too when it trumpeted, 'jobs, jobs, jobs'. The PNP's JEEP was seen to be a take-off on the JLP's promise, which instead became, 'unemployment, unemployment, unemployment' as jobs were bled as a result of the global recession.

Leading up to the December elections in which the PNP triumphed and in the weeks which followed, just by way of casual conversation with people at street level, especially those who had voted for the PNP, there was an expectation that JEEP would provide many thousands of jobs for the dispossessed islandwide.

Based on what we have been told in bits and pieces recently, it appears that those in the political directorate never really formulated JEEP as a viable employment plan in September of last year. Having won the elections, the PNP administration found that it had to be making up JEEP as it went along.

At some stage it announced that 5,000 jobs would be provided, $5 billion had been identified, and in the first wave all 63 MPs were asked to propose projects up to a limit of $10 million, making it a total of $630 million.

Certainly 5,000 jobs is a far cry from the loud pronouncement of September last year. That said, if we assume that at some stage good sense had to prevail, especially as the PNP moved from its large plate of political promises as an Opposition party in September 2011 to the reality of Government in the early days of 2012, then 5,000 jobs must be seen as better than nothing, even though I still believe that the 'drop in the bucket' effect has the potential to create chaos among the hundreds of thousands of young people anxious to find some form of paid employment.

Then entered the Office of the Contractor General (OCG). Considering that the proposed spending of $5 billion would involve the issuing of contracts to various individuals/companies who would in turn employ the 5,000, the OCG made a surprise visit to the offices of the Ministry of Transport, Works and Housing (MTWH) on March 20.

As a part of its release, it said, "The primary objective of the OCG's unannounced visit to the MTWH was to sequester certain critical information and documentation, regarding the JEEP, which was formally requisitioned by the OCG, by way of letter that was dated February 27, but which is yet to be provided by the ministry despite the fact that the programme has already been officially operationalised or is about to be operationalised".

Further in the press release, it is stated, "Amongst the OCG's concerns is the fact that although the programme has been operationalised or is about to be operationalised, as has been officially announced by Jamaica House, neither the JEEP manager and its accountable officer, Mrs Lucille Brodber, who was appointed into office effective March 12, 2012, nor the permanent secretary in the MTWH who is the JEEP's accounting officer, seem to have any particularised knowledge about the details of the programme or its projects.

"This is borne out, among other things, by (a) a statement that was attributed to Mrs Brodber that, as at yesterday, 'she was not yet in a position to outline works which have commenced under the programme' (See Gleaner article 'Jeep on the move', dated March 20, 2012) and (b) the fact that in an article which was entitled 'JLP Worried about JEEP launch', which was published on the Gleaner/Power 106's website on March 19, 2012, the MTWH's permanent secretary reportedly asserted that she was unable to provide details of the programme and directed the news centre to the minister, Dr Omar Davies."

All of this would lead to natural suspicion that JEEP was never really a soundly documented proposal/programme but was more of an election catch. Once the gullible had taken the bait and the election was won, JEEP had to be hurriedly made up, in bits and pieces.

By the following day, March 21, the intrigue heightened as the OCG obtained a copy of a confidential memo sent by the permanent secretary in the ministry to the portfolio minister. The March 20 memo stated, "I am writing to express my concern that there is a lack of information flow to me regarding the Jamaica Emergency Employment Programme.

"I call attention (to) the fact that the programme is being closely monitored by the OCG, and recently I was written to by the contractor general and asked to respond to specific questions regarding the programme.

"In my response, I informed the contractor general that as soon as information becomes available, he would subsequently be advised of some of the outstanding matters. It is therefore of concern that I learnt through the media of the planned launch of the programme and the allocation of $10m per constituency.

"I am requesting that I be advised as soon as possible whenever decisions are taken about the programme, especially as they relate to expenditure since they have implications for procurement."

Now, the permanent secretary in any ministry is the chief accounting officer. In this instance, the chief accounting officer is indicating that she has just as much information on JEEP as the man at street level, which is only what comes out in the wash in the media, a terrible state of affairs and one which is indicative of a political directorate which intends to spend first and hold accountability sessions after.

Supporting secrecy

By March 23 an entity that I have never heard of before, the Permanent Secretaries Board, waded in, not in support of accountability but in an effort to muzzle the contractor general, support their colleague and worse, inform the OCG in no uncertain terms what it will be expecting of his office in the future.

In a March 27 press release from the OCG, one part read as follows, "The Office of the Contractor General (OCG) is deeply troubled by the contents of a statement, dated March 23, 2012, that was issued by the Permanent Secretaries Board (PSB).

"The statement was issued after the OCG had published a memo, that was stamped 'Confidential', that was written by the permanent secretary (PS) in the Ministry of Transport, Works and Housing (MTWH), to the MTWH minister, and in which the PS had registered her concerns about her ignorance of matters that were related to the Jamaica Emergency Employment Programme (JEEP).

"The PSB, in its statement, has, among other things, questioned the lawful authority of the OCG to publish the memo. Indeed, the PSB has gone as far as to direct the OCG by warning it that "It is the expectation of the board that there will not be a recurrence of this type of action and that there will be strict adherence to the spirit and intent of the Contractor General Act by all concerned".

"While the OCG has every respect for the members of the PSB and its chairman, the OCG nevertheless considers the PSB's statement to be an ill-advised and unlawful incursion upon the lawful authority and jurisdiction of the OCG under the Contractor General Act. Consequently, the PSB's statement cannot, by reason of its grave implications, be left unanswered or unaddressed.

"At best, the PSB is substantially misguided in its understanding of the role, functions and lawful powers of the OCG, and it is to be regretted that the PSB's implicit ignorance, in this regard, has apparently been foisted upon what could be an unsuspecting media and the public."

One senses that big politics has trumped professionalism in this regard.

Let us recap for a moment in order to make more sense of the matter. The JEEP involves spending of a proposed $5 billion, which will involve procurement via the issuing of contracts. The OCG requests information as it relates to specifics of the programme and source of funding. He cannot get it.

He obtains a copy of a memo from the PS to her minister informing him that she needs information on the matter. She states in the memo that information on spending on JEEP was gleaned by her through the media. The PSB, probably more than nudged by the political directorate, rises to the defence of the PS and in the process reveals a hand willing to bow to the purely political dictates of those who are more concerned with politics than accountability.

To date, the Office of the Contractor General has still not been provided with any of the requested information on JEEP, and the man and woman at street level still expect JEEP to drive through their communities any day soon.

A programme hatched in raw politics can only produce political and not developmental results. Months ago I had calculated that at least 300,000 people islandwide were anxious for employment. How many of those were expecting to be picked up by the JEEP?

Already many MPs who won in December have abandoned their constituencies. The promises made in the few months prior to the elections were just never on. Expect to see them in another four or five years' time.





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