Days after the new administration took office on January 5, Minister of Transport, Works and Housing, Hon. Dr. Omar Davies, began his quest to tidy up affairs at that Ministry, particularly as it relates to the Jamaica Development Infrastructure Programme (JDIP).
He announced that a forensic audit of the operations of the JDIP, which had been requested under the previous government, would to be undertaken.
“One of my first questions on entering the Ministry was to ask for a progress report on the forensic audit. The reality is that nothing had happened, so the Permanent Secretary has begun the process,” he explained at a press conference at the Ministry’s Maxfield Avenue offices.
The JDIP represents a major undertaking to significantly improve the island’s road network, enhance the quality of life of citizens and stimulate economic development.
Funding has been provided by the Government of China, through their Export Import (EXIM) Bank. The partnership has made available US$400 million (approximately J$36 billion) for improvements to roads, main and parochial, and other physical infrastructure, including bridges.
Meanwhile, Government representatives met with Ambassador of the People’s Republic of China, His Excellency Zheng Qingdian, to discuss the administration’s desire to make changes to the structure and implementation of JDIP.
By mid-February, the draft terms of reference for JDIP had been reviewed by both the Attorney General and the Auditor General and their comments were incorporated into the final document.
“The draft terms of reference were also sent to the Contractor General’s Office. While not commenting on the contents, the Office of the Contractor General advised the Ministry of their intention to monitor the process that will be used to engage consultants,” Dr. Davies explained.
The Transport Minister further informed that the National Contracts Commission approved the request from the Ministry to utilise the limited tender methodology to engage the consultants. Accordingly, the request for proposals was sent to six firms, which operate locally and internationally.
Meanwhile, the Government held true to its promise to stimulate productivity and the economy as a whole, through the Jamaica Emergency Employment Programme (JEEP).
Tabling a Ministry Paper in the House outlining the initiatives, Dr. Davies noted that the first phase of JEEP would result in the employment of over 5,000 persons, and span five Ministries – the Ministry of Education ( 815 persons); Ministry of Transport, Works and Housing (1,570 persons); Ministry of Tourism and Entertainment (100 persons); Ministry of Labour and Social Security (750 persons); and the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries(1,611 persons).
He also noted that a major initiative by the National Housing Trust (NHT) is to be incorporated, committing funds to finance the construction of housing units islandwide for middle and lower income persons, using small contractors.
The JEEP was subsequently launchedon March 22 at a ceremony held the Orchid Village Complex, Barbican Road, St. Andrew.
The Works Minister assured that all projects and activities implemented under JEEP would be characterised by fiscal responsibility, noting that financing for the initiative has been thoroughly documented and is available for scrutiny.
Meanwhile, Lucille Brodber was appointed Project Director for the JEEP, assuming the post on March 12. Her duties include: directing the day-to-day operations of the Programme/Secretariat; the development and implementation of appropriate systems of accountability that are in line with Government’s policies and procedures; directing the implementation of the programme to ensure that projects are efficiently executed as well as designing and implementing systems to monitor those projects.
In early April, Minister Davies indicated that the country was poised to benefit from investments in the transportation sector valued at more than US$1 billion.
“There are several opportunities to invite significant external investment to Jamaica and within the next few weeks, I’ll be in a position to speak definitively about three such projects, which will lead to investments in excess of US$1 billion over the next three to five years,” Dr. Davies said.
He said the investment projects, which come as a result of the country’s strategic location, will require no counterpart funds from the Government, and will do much to enhance economic activity and create jobs.
Dr. Davies informed that details on one of the projects will become available at the end of this month, and the other two in May.
In March, Dr. Davies introduced a new Board of Directors for the state-owned bus company, Jamaica Urban Transit Company (JUTC), which is integral to the transportation sector. The team was mandated to achieve financial stability, restore order to the public transportation system, increase customer service, and in general, provide an “efficient and civilised public transportation service."
The JUTC has just under 300 buses in various stages of disrepair and the Minister explained that of the number, several have been “written-off” and will be deployed in the school system as libraries, information centres and classrooms.
The rehabilitation programme will be undertaken through a joint venture between the JUTC and the Jamaica/German Automotive School (JAGAS), with the Minister advising that details of this arrangement will be forthcoming during a presentation to Parliament.
The new JUTC Board is chaired by Rev. Garnett Roper and includes a representative of the disabled community, Dr. Heather Little Whyte, and student representative, Rayon Walters. Rear Admiral Hardley Lewin has been appointed Managing Director.