Wed | Jul 8, 2020

More scrutiny on COVID clean-up

Published:Thursday | June 4, 2020 | 12:25 AMEdmond Campbell/Senior Parliamentary Reporter
Michael Belnavis, mayor of St Ann's Bay and chairman of the St Ann Municipal Corporation.
Michael Belnavis, mayor of St Ann's Bay and chairman of the St Ann Municipal Corporation.

The Public Administration and Appropriations Committee (PAAC) has called on the Integrity Commission or any other appropriate state body to investigate the $46-million contract awarded to Rahim Cleaning and Trucking Limited to carry out cleaning and sanitising works at eight locations in Ocho Rios, St Ann.

Eyebrows were raised yesterday during a meeting of the committee at Gordon House when it was revealed that it cost more than $9 million to sanitise and clean handrails, gates, doors, gate handles, and door handles at the Ocho Rios Pier.

The St Ann Municipal Corporation requested funds from the Tourism Enhancement Fund (TEF) to carry out the sanitisation exercise in the wake of COVID-19.

At a previous sitting, the PAAC queried why St Ann alone had been singled out when other municipalities in tourist resort areas received no funding for similar exercises.

Sanitisation work was done at the Urban Development Corporation’s Island Village complex, Main Street in Ocho Rios, Turtle River Park, Ocean Village, Ocho Rios Market, and Fisherman Village.

At the Island Village complex, cleaning involved sanitisation of handrails, gates and their handles, doors and their handles, rail guards and seating, amounting to $7.5 million.

Committee Chairman Dr Wykeham McNeill queried whether the contract involved any construction works.

He said the numbers presented for work done in Ocho Rios “appear quite inflated”.

McNeill asked the deputy CEO of the St Ann Municipal Corporation, Xavier Munroe, if the cost of $7.5 million “rang any bells” in his mind for cleaning and sanitising.

However, Munroe insisted that the municipality had calculated the cost of the chemical and the estimated sum for various aspects of the contract.

“So we had an idea of what it would cost for material, chemicals, equipment used, and the labour factor,” the deputy CEO said.

“In order to reach the amount on the estimate, we did a calculation of what is the cost of the chemical, the amount of chemical to be applied per square metre, and the area of that particular location,” he added.

Asked by committee member Leslie Campbell to provide the name and cost of the chemical, Munroe said it was quaternary sanitisers, which cost $2,880 per five-gallon container.

He was unable to provide specifics on how much was used for the project.

However, a copy of the documents presented to the committee by the municipal corporation indicated that one of the chemicals used throughout the project was sodium hypochlorite, a common ingredient in bleach.

Committee member Fitz Jackson shared that the Portmore municipality spent a total of $300,000 to carry out cleaning and sanitisation of “all the major gathering areas in Portmore, Naggo Head Transport Centre, Waterford Transport Centre, Greater Portmore Health Centre and Library, all the bus shelters and all of Portmore Mall”. He said the cleaning and sanitisation exercise was carried out after the outbreak of COVID-19 cases at the Alorica call centre.

The Ocho Rios project was implemented under emergency contract, which facilitates direct contracting as set out by the Public Sector Procurement Handbook.

Chief Executive Officer of the St Ann Municipal Corporation Rovel Morris was quizzed on how the contractor was identified.

The committee was told that a letter to verify the competency of Rahim’s Cleaning and Trucking Limited came from Tracy Fakourie, regional operations manager of NEPM Waste Management Limited.

Companies Office of Jamaica records indicate that Rahim’s Cleaning and Trucking Limited was incorporated in August 2017 and is located in Cross Roads, St Andrew. Rahim Walker and Damion Shirley are named as directors and shareholders.

The agreement between the St Ann Municipal Corporation and the contracting firm was signed on March 26, 2020. However, the letter of recommendation from Fakourie was dated May 20, 2020, almost two months after the contract was signed.

“So you would have got the recommendation after the work was completed,” McNeill observed.

Responding, Morris said: “Based on how the process goes, there are times that you have verbal communication and then the letters would come. So there are some aspects that would not be recorded on paper, but they are through telephone conversations.”

The St Ann Municipal Corporation said that the company was National Contracts Commission-qualified in the area of sanitation.

The permanent secretary in the Ministry of Local Government, Marsha Henry-Martin, told the committee that she has asked the chief internal auditor to carry out an investigation into the matter.

edmond.campbell@gleanerjm.com