KINGSTON — The Ministry of Transport and Works says that issues raised in the Auditor General's (AG) Special Report on the Jamaica Development Infrastructure Programme (JDIP), could have been clarified if the final version had been submitted to the accounting officer, Permanent Secretary, Dr. Alwin Hales, for response.
Dr. Hales told a press conference at the Ministry, on Thursday (November 17) that the action of the AG was contrary to commitments made by her auditing team, at an exit interview at the National Works Agency (NWA) on October 27.
"Had we been given the opportunity to respond to the issues raised in the report, a number of the Auditor General’s concerns could have been cleared up," he said.
Dr. Hales was responding to the findings of a Special Audit Report on the JDIP, tabled in Parliament on Tuesday (November 17) by the Auditor General, Pamela Monroe Ellis, and which has become a national issue since.
The report was based on investigations by the AG's Department into the management of JDIP, to determine whether the Ministry of Transport and Works and the National Works Agency (NWA) employed appropriate systems to facilitate the efficient and effective management of the programme. There were 12 key findings of the report, all of which were addressed at Thursday’s press conference.
Dr. Hales said he found several of the findings “perplexing”, as he is of the view that JDIP is "one of the best planned and executed projects we have ever had in this ministry".
"It is likely to come in ahead of schedule, and it is likely to come in within budget, barring some slight escalation costs," he said of JDIP.
He cited several factual errors in the findings of the report, including where it stated that documents requested from the National Works Agency (NWA) were not supplied which, according to the Permanent Secretary, were actually submitted by the agency.
He said, however, that the Ministry will continue discussions with the Auditor General and, if there are any issues of general concern, will endeavour to ensure that they are addressed.
"And we expect to be getting some form of acknowledgement of the documents that were reported as not having being submitted. I am hoping that these matters can be resolved at the earliest (time),” he suggested.
Dr. Hales also discounted a media item which had the Auditor General claiming that the report had been in the hands of the NWA for over four weeks and that, at the exit interview, no major concerns were raised by the Ministry or the NWA.
"My information is that nearly every single issue that was raised in that report was vehemently challenged by our team, and by the NWA. So, I find it surprising that it is being reported that the Ministry and the NWA were virtually in agreement and actually signed off on the contents of the report,” he said.
He also pointed out that the final report differed from the document that was presented at the exit interview, as additional matters were incorporated afterwards.
Pointing to other issues which were raised in the report that could have been easily cleared up, if the Ministry was given the opportunity to respond, the Permanent Secretary noted that the matter of the iterative design process of a project, which is normal civil engineering practice, was construed by the Auditor General as poor planning, causing undue delays.
"This is a situation…where the design process was done to a level of perfection, that enabled us to clear all the issues associated with land acquisition, the alignment of the road, prior to the contractor starting the works," he said.
He also pointed to another instance where Bills of Quantities were requested and were submitted, yet the final report claimed that Engineer’s Estimates were not submitted. He explained that there is a clear difference between a Bill of Quantity and an Engineer's Estimate, and that this was an example of how interaction would have clarified the terminologies used by the engineering profession.
"I am sure some understanding could have been achieved, where the NWA could not have been accused of failing to deliver documents simply because, maybe, the auditors might not have understood the simple difference between say a Bill of Quantity and an Engineer's Estimate,” Dr. Hales said.
The JDIP represents a major undertaking by the Government to significantly improve the island’s road network, in order to enhance the quality of life of citizens and to stimulate economic development.
The Government of China has provided funding, through the Export Import (EXIM) Bank of China, which has made available US$400 million (approximately J$36 billion) for a programme of works to be effected on roads and road furniture, such as bridges, drains and traffic systems, islandwide. The programme will be undertaken on all roads, both main and parochial.
By Alecia Smith-Edwards, JIS Reporter