Thursday, 16 February 2023 10:35

Holness vows to ‘make truth known’ after being cited by IC report

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Prime Minister Andrew Holness is pushing back after a concerning recommendation of the Integrity Commission (IC) that he be referred to the Director of Corruption Prosecution in the commission for possible further action in a case involving the award of millions of dollars in Government contracts to a company whose principals he has been associated with.

In an initial response on Wednesday evening, Holness said he “strongly rejects” some of the commission’s findings and has referred the matter to his lawyers.

“I strongly reject any suggestion or insinuation of wrongdoing and I will do all in my power to ensure that the truth is known,” he declared.

The investigation commenced with the then Office of the Contractor General (OCG), which has since been subsumed in the IC.

Two state agencies, the National Works Agency (NWA) and the Social Development Commission (SDC), have also been implicated in the IC report.

The company in question - Westcon Construction Limited - received contracts totalling more than $21 million between 2006 and 2009, which overlaps with the period when Holness served as the Minister of Education, Youth and Information.

In a lengthy statement, the prime minister said he has completed his preliminary review of the IC report, and was making the following initial comments:

1. The matter covered in the report of the OCG/Integrity Commission concerning the award of contracts (dates) as far back as 2006-2009, over 14-17 years ago.

2. The failure of agencies (NWA and SDC) to comply with various procurement rules cannot be attributed to me in any capacity, and we note that the report does not make such a conclusion.

3. In my response to the Integrity Commission’s queries of these dated matters, I made it absolutely clear that at no time have I ever exercised influence on any process for the award of contracts.

4. I strongly disagree with the findings of the Integrity Commission regarding conflict of interest based on mere association.

5. It has been the longstanding practice that Members of Parliament are asked to recommend local contractors to undertake works in their constituencies as a practical matter. This practice was introduced during the 1990s, and has continued across multiple administrations since. Furthermore, it is also the practice that constituency project officers for the Constituency Development Fund (CDF) are recommended by the Member of Parliament. It is not unusual that CDF projects officers are persons who are already working in the constituency organisation and are associated with the MP. I am certain that a review of local works and CDF projects officers will find that MP recommendations feature significantly in a vast number of them, and this has never been cited as exercising undue influence.

 6. The Integrity Commission’s report also ignores the circumstances of an emergency, where in 2008, 15 years ago, the ‘Christmas Work’ programme was late in starting, and workers faced a high probability of not being paid. I was asked to recommend an entity to facilitate payment of the Christmas Work Programme before the close of business for the Christmas holidays. This was done in good faith. To see this being targeted and made into something it is not, is gravely disappointing.

7. I strongly disagree with some of the findings of the report, and have referred it to my lawyers. I strongly reject any suggestion or insinuation of wrongdoing, and I will do all in my power to ensure that the truth is known.

8. I, and the Government I lead, remain strongly committed to tackling corruption in our country. The processes of doing so must, however, be practical, balanced and fair to all concerned.