St Ann Municipal Corporation defends $47-m contract with cleaning company

THE St Ann Municipal Corporation has defended its $46.8-million sanitisation contract with a National Contracts Commission (NCC)-approved company for the resort town of Ocho Rios and other areas, to mitigate the spread of the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19).

The Tourism Enhancement Fund (TEF) told the Public Administration and Appropriations Committee (PAAC) on Wednesday that a request from the municipal corporation for $77.2 million came early in the COVID-19 crisis to carry out maintenance and rehabilitation works in the tourism areas of Oho Rios, St Ann’s Bay, Brown’s Town, and Discovery Bay.

The TEF board, however, approved $46.8 million for Ocho Rios only, for sanitisation and deep cleaning at Island Village, the Ocho Rios Pier, Main Street, Turtle River Park, the Ocho Rios market, White River, and Fisherman’s Beach, Permanent Secretary Jennifer Griffith told the committee on Wednesday.

The bone of contention at the sitting was the municipal corporation’s emergency procurement of a sole contractor.

The committee decided that the arrangement between the municipal corporation and Rahim’s Cleaning and Trucking Limited should be subjected to a probe by the integrity commission, or another appropriate agency, to resolve a number of questions that surfaced at the meeting.

“These figures really seem inflated… this is beyond my scope. As far as I’m concerned, this needs to be looked at by some agency that is more equipped to understand these figures. I think this is an area for the contractor general to come in and take a look,” PAAC Chairman Dr Wykeham McNeill said, as members expressed dissatisfaction with the explanation for the selection process as well as the level of expenditure.

He said the rationale for the selection raised more questions than answers, pointing to the agreement with Rahim’s Cleaning and Trucking Limited dated March 26 this year, two months before the corporation received a letter of recommendation for the company from the regional operations manager of North Eastern Parks and Markets Waste Management.

“Even the letter itself is at best confusing… At no stage in this letter do they speak of sanitisation or any other issue of that nature. At best, this is very untidy and I’m not certain how you arrived at this position,” he stated.

However, deputy chief executive officer and chief engineering officer for the corporation Xavier Munroe insisted that the procurement process followed Government guidelines.

“We didn’t have a lot of time. We went directly to the NCC and we checked under sanitation; this is a contractor that has NCC in sanitisation — regardless of if they are doing work for another company in another category — this contractor has the NCC qualification in sanitisation,” he stressed.

Members also suggested that the line items for the works appeared to be inflated, with Manchester North Western Member of Parliament Mikael Phillips saying: “This is like you just cut and paste what you had on your estimate onto his invoice… What I would have expected with that amount being spent, that at least to see if he could come in within or below your estimate.”

“I can’t speak of it as [if] we did the cleaning to try and save money; we did the cleaning to try to save lives,” Munroe rejoined.

He also explained that the works involved “far more” than outlined in the submission documents.

Meanwhile, project director at TEF Johan Rampair explained that subsequent to the board approving the projects for the municipal corporation, other requests had come in that are now being investigated. He said such requests for funding have come from the municipal corporations of Kingston and St Andrew, St Catherine, and St Elizabeth.

The permanent secretary noted that the St Ann Municipal Corporation had “come out of the blocks early” with its request for the projects, but that the TEF board is now restructuring its budget to address more comprehensive sanitisation programmes for the remainder of the fiscal year.

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