Jamaica investigator probing troubled gov't agency

AP News
Posted: Nov 29, 2011 6:27 PM
Jamaica investigator probing troubled gov't agency

A Jamaican anti-corruption agency opened a probe Tuesday into a troubled government office that is already undergoing an independent review of its alleged mismanagement of a stalled $400 million road program.

Contractor General Greg Christie's staff is investigating the National Works Agency for its purchase of $720,000 worth of new office furniture using contract funds from the renovation of a narrow strip of shore road leading to Kingston's international airport.

The shoreline work is being done by a Chinese company, China Harbour Engineering Company Ltd., under a $65.3 million contract awarded by the National Works Agency. The project began in September 2010.

Investigators with the contractor general's office, which examines public sector contracts to see if they are free of corruption, found stacks of office furniture in five 40-foot (12-meter) containers on the works agency's property during an unannounced visit.

A statement issued by Christie's office said investigators found a document showing the agency's CEO authorized about $720,000 to be charged under the "institutional strengthening" component of the shoreline project's contract.

At a minimum, the matter raises "glaring irregularities, as well as evidence of a lack of due diligence, poor implementation, improper internal controls and adherence to the principles of good corporate governance," Christie's office said.

Earlier this month, Jamaica's auditor general raised numerous concerns about deficiencies in the agency's program planning, record keeping, quality control and monitoring of a sprawling $400 million road program mostly funded with loans from China that has stalled under a cloud of alleged mismanagement.

Among the breaches identified, Auditor General Pamela Munroe Ellis uncovered the apparent siphoning of $1.2 million by the National Works Agency to renovate its headquarters without the approval of the island's contracts commission.

Just like the furniture acquisition, upgrades to the agency's headquarters such as new air conditioning and decorative tiles were authorized by tacking purchases of goods to the "institutional strengthening" line of the five-year $400 million road contract.

The auditor-general's revelations led to the ouster of National Works Agency CEO Patrick Wong, who has defended his management of the agency.

Prime Minister Andrew Holness has assumed responsibility for the road project and said no new work orders will be issued for the infrastructure program until an independent review is finished. Officials say the review is due in December.