Auditor general concerned about NWA's quality assurance system

Senior staff reporter

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

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Auditor General Pamela Monroe Ellis yesterday expressed concerns about the National Works Agency's (NWA) quality assurance system, as Parliament's Public Accounts Committee (PAC) began reviewing her department's performance audit report of the agency for the period 2009-2014.

The report pointed out that the NWA's quality management system needs improvements to provide adequate assurance that road construction and rehabilitation projects are completed based on prescribed quality standards and procedures.

The auditor general's investigation also found that the agency had not conducted timely calibration of critical testing equipment to assess and monitor operational efficiency, which increased the risk that standard specifications for the quality of the road network may not be met.

Furthermore, the auditor general concluded that the NWA did not have a mechanism to independently obtain the material tests conducted by labs, and therefore was exposed to the risk of false test results.

“The NWA is a public interest entity that should represent the people of Jamaica, and as such all its actions must bear in mind the public interest. It is for that reason... we insist on an independent quality management system,” Monroe Ellis said as the PAC pored over the report which had been tabled in December 2015.

Monroe Ellis said that, while she acknowledged the NWA's use of a quality management framework, this was not enough.

“An independent quality management system is externally focused and it addresses the needs of the stakeholders which, as a government entity, you are expected to meet the needs of your stakeholders,” she said, pointing to the precedence already set for the adoption of international quality assurance framework such as the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), by the National Road Operating and Constructing Company (NROCC), the Bureau of Standards Jamaica, and the Office of Utilities Regulation, among other agencies.

“We are not imposing that it should be ISO… but we do not believe that it should be arbitrary that a public interest entity determines whether it should adopt an international standard or not,” Monroe Ellis stressed.

She said that while the current use of the International Federation of Consulting Engineers model is accepted, “You need a quality assurance mechanism to ensure that the very standards which you proclaim are being adhered to are in fact being adhered to.”

The auditor general further told the committee that although the NWA has indicated that it has a total quality management framework in place, her department had yet to see a copy of it, and as such could not “speak to the robustness of that internal documentation”.

Monroe Ellis raised those points after NWA Chief Executive Officer E G Hunter went to pains to explain the agency's current quality assurance system, and that it is scoping out an appropriate standards mechanism to govern contracts with a view to implementation in the upcoming financial year.

He agreed that having the stamp of an international standards body would improve the NWA's reputation, and said that the agency is examining implementation of either the ISO or the American National Standards Institute template. “We have a number of options… but it doesn't come cheap. These things do cost,” he said.

Hunter argued that the ISO standard, which was not without merit, generally worked better for entities that collaborate with a single partner, such as NROCC in its contracting arrangements with China Harbour Engineering Company. He also pointed out that the NWA works with over 250 contractors.

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