Jamaica PM: Natural gas project to proceed

AP News
Posted: May 26, 2011 5:43 PM
Jamaica PM: Natural gas project to proceed

The government's plan to introduce liquefied natural gas to oil-dependent Jamaica will proceed, despite calls by an independent investigator to halt the tender process for the project, the prime minister said Thursday.

Prime Minister Bruce Golding said in a statement that his Cabinet will review a call by the Jamaican contractor general to redo the government's tender process for the offshore energy project, including a re-gasification terminal and a natural gas transportation system to feed the electricity grid by 2013.

Contractor General Greg Christie said his assessment of a government contract revealed numerous irregularities and financial conflicts of interest that he asserts must result in criminal investigations by prosecutors and police.

But Golding said diversifying Jamaica's energy sources is too important for the LNG project to be scrapped.

Christie's recommendation "does not mean that the LNG project has been canceled, far from it. It is too important to us, too vital for our economic future, to our investment prospects, our hope for development, and therefore the project is proceeding apace," said Golding, who first made the comments at the start of a call-in radio program.

Golding's office said the move to introduce natural gas will help ease soaring energy prices in Jamaica.

In a 609-page report, Christie alleged the preferred bidder, Belgium-based shipping group Exmar Marine NV, was privy to information not provided to other bidders, giving it an "irregular, improper and unfair advantage."

Citing a slew of email correspondence, Christie said he concluded there was a too-cozy relationship between Exmar executives and Stephen Wedderburn, LNG project coordinator at the Petroleum Corporation of Jamaica, and Ian Moore, a former chairman of the PCJ and principal of Caribbean LNG, a British Virgin Islands-registered company that is part of the Exmar Consortium.

Exmar and Wedderburn did not immediately respond to Thursday calls or emails for comment. Moore has told the Jamaica Observer newspaper that "we have nothing to hide."

Christie suggests the men steered the government's energy policy away from coal to liquefied natural gas and then shared valuable pre-bidding information with Exmar, which he said had been lobbying for the introduction of LNG to Jamaica from as early as 2006.

Christie called for criminal investigations to determine if anyone conspired or attempted to use insider information for financial gain. His report was first published on the Jamaican Parliament's website Tuesday.