Jamaica gov't minister resigns amid investigations

AP News
Posted: Nov 30, 2011 5:31 PM
Jamaica gov't minister resigns amid investigations

The chairman of Jamaica's governing party has resigned from the Cabinet over allegations that his ministry has mismanaged a sprawling $400 million road program financed by China.

Transport and Works Minister Mike Henry announced his resignation in a late Tuesday statement, citing "ongoing attacks" on the management of the Jamaica Development Infrastructure Program, a five-year initiative launched in 2010 with loans from China to upgrade rutted roadways.

Henry, who did not return calls Wednesday, said he has nothing to hide and looks forward to the conclusion of an independent review ordered by Prime Minister Andrew Holness, who has assumed responsibility for the project.

Henry still holds considerable power as chairman of the Jamaica Labor Party, though the deputy chairman, Agriculture Minister Robert Montague, is challenging him in upcoming internal elections.

He is the second casualty of the controversy. Patrick Wong, the CEO of the National Works Agency, which is overseen by Henry's ministry, resigned earlier this month after the auditor general issued a report raising concerns about the project, including the apparent use of $1.2 million in road funds to renovate the agency's headquarters with new air conditioning units and decorative tiles without the approval of the island's contracts commission.

Jamaica's contractor general, an anti-corruption agency, opened a separate probe Tuesday into what it described as "glaring irregularities" by the National Works Agency in purchasing $720,000 worth of office furniture funds from another project aimed at upgrading a shoreline road leading to Kingston's 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. Other roads are being repaired with $340 million in loans from the state-owned Export-Import Bank of China.

Government opponents are calling for more heads to fall.

Peter Phillips, a finance spokesman for the opposition People's National Party, said Finance Minister Audley Shaw had helped keep the big road project off the national budget to avoid parliamentary scrutiny. He also alleged that project files have gone missing from the National Work Agency's computer system.

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In a statement three days before his resignation, Henry said the opposition claims were "panic-driven escapades" to tar the government ahead of elections.

Late Wednesday afternoon, Holness appointed Shahine Robinson, a Cabinet minister without portfolio, as Henry's replacement. Last year, Robinson was forced to defend her northeastern St. Ann parish seat after revealing that she held U.S. citizenship in violation of constitutional law.

Also Wednesday, the transport ministry's permanent secretary, Alwin Hales, was put on leave in order to facilitate the investigation into the trouble infrastructure program and the National Works Agency.

Henry has been the Parliament member for the central Clarendon district since 1980. He also has served as minister of tourism and agriculture and minister of state for information.