The Opposition’s call for a divide in the House of Representatives yesterday failed to halt the Government’s plans to advance the Public Procurement (National Development Project) (Montego Bay Perimeter Road Project) Order and Resolution, 2021.

The divide was called by Leader of Opposition Business Anthony Hylton after the Government decided to go ahead with the debate despite the absence of Minister of Finance and the Public Service Dr Nigel Clarke, who had tabled the order last week.

The count ended with 36 Government MPs voting in favour, six Opposition MPs voting against, while three abstained. Sixteen MPs were absent from the House.

But Prime Minister Andrew Holness, who closed the debate for Dr Clarke, although assured of winning the vote in terms of his vast majority, closed on an extremely positive and cooperative note when he offered to discuss future plans for declaring more national development projects with the Opposition before they are bought to Parliament.

The debate was on an order issued by Clarke for the Montego Bay Perimeter Road Project to be declared a national development project and exempted from the requirements of the Procurement Act.

This has virtually paved the way for the project to start its final stage, with the Government sticking with the original contractor, China Harbour Engineering Company (CHEC), operating according to certain rules included to protect local workers and subcontractors.

“These things shouldn’t be secret. As soon as they have been developed, what I will do is to bring them to the Opposition before, so that you can have an opportunity to research and look at them, because we will probably have to consider how we treat these as national development projects,” Holness said.

“And so… just to be clear, declaring projects as national projects does not necessarily mean that they would automatically be accepted,” he stated.

“There are other reasons why you would want to declare a project as a national project. To indicate how serious the Government is to mobilise all public service around it, so that the process of declaring it a national project should not just be looked upon as trying to circumvent. It is not all the time that we would be seeking to have the procurement [rules] obviated by virtue of declaring a project a national project,” he added.

Opposition Leader Mark Golding suggested the ministerial order from Dr Clarke was defective and a sell-out, as there was no level of transparency, even as it raised questions about value for money.

“Just to give CHEC the project without allowing other interests and qualified contractors to bid for the work provides no transparency, no assurance of Jamaicans getting value for taxpayers’ money, and that is not being fair to the Jamaican people. Matter of fact, this is selling out of the Jamaican people,” Golding argued.

He noted that previous work done by CHEC had created flooding and landslides without showing any value for money, and pointed out that the company paid lower wages than normal Joint Industrial Council rates.

The order requires CHEC to ensure that 90 per cent of the jobs on the project go to Jamaicans and to pay them wages similar to that paid by local contractors. It also includes training programmes through the HEART/NSTA as well as limiting the employment of overseas experts and limits their recruitment to a maximum to 50 per cent of the staff.

Jamaica Observer