Question on $7m hotel bill for roadwork stuns Gov't
Stunned by the allegations that money from a multibillion-dollar Clarendon road project, which has missed its March 2016 completion deadline, was used to cover a $7-million hotel bill, the Government is now demanding that the parliamentary Opposition release any evidence it has to back up its claim.
Opposition spokesman on works, Richard Azan, made the claim on Tuesday as he questioned Dr Horace Chang, the minister without portfolio in the Ministry of Economic Growth and Job Creation, at Parliament's Standing Finance Committee meeting.
Chang admitted that the $1.3 billion project, which is now due to be completed in April, will over run its budget by about five per cent, meaning that taxpayers will have to find another $65 million to complete the reconstruction and straightening of 10.5 kilometres of roadway from Soursop Turn to Chapleton in Clarendon.
Although he confirmed those developments, Chang said he had no information on the allegations Azan raised.
"Minister," Azan asked, "could you say if there were payments for some accommodation at Riu Hotel, jewellery collection - I don't know what this is all about - some Clarks shoes [and] some payments made to Hi-Pro Ace farm store? There was a bill (at Riu) for $7 million."
"Member," a clearly surprised Chang replied, "I have no idea, and my officers are not aware of it. Could you give me the information so we can investigate it?"
"The National Works Agency (NWA) has that information," the spokesman charged back, adding that the agency's project manager had allegedly made a written record of the bill.
Chang responded, "The chief executive officer, EG Hunter (who was present), has told me he's not aware of it."
As the supervising entity, the NWA is responsible for certifying that works are done as contracted before payments are made.
Chang said the allegations were serious and he needed any information suggesting wrongdoing on any part of a public official.
"Member, you have raised an issue that will create a lot of public excitement. Any evidence you have that can be investigated, I'll be happy to have it done. I have an interest in finding out if that was so," Chang said.
Meanwhile, according to him, "The work is 94 per cent complete and they've paid out 93 per cent of the budget, so they are on target with what is required."
Last year January, the NWA's communication manager, Stephen Shaw, told The Gleaner that the project, which started in September 2014 and was to run for 18 months, had to be extended, because of "excess rock excavation".
On June 19, 2014, the Government signed a contract with Asphaltic Concrete Enterprise and General Paving Company to carry out the project.
The Government got help through a loan from the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries to fund the project.