Prime Minister Andrew Holness has indicated that the Government plans to implement a registration system for Jamaicans engaged to do mitigation and other similar works for the State in order to ensure accountability and reduce the risk of certain types of programmes coming under scrutiny.
“We are in a different era of accountability and our supporters need to understand that it is not [about] taking up cash and just giving it out — those days are gone. Work must be done for this income,” Holness said in the House of Representatives yesterday.
“Presently, there are some processes where funds, having been approved, would go through a contractor, it is then broken down to a smaller level and then it is paid out. We may have to look at a process where someone who wants to benefit from a programme would have to register so we know who the final beneficiary of the labour works are,” he explained.
The prime minister was announcing a just over $1-billion mitigation works programme which will see the 63 constituencies each receiving $16 million for road patching, debushing, and drain-cleaning works.
Holness said, however, that this paradigm shift in how Government pays workers outside of the public sector could not happen overnight, as the country’s banking systems have be improved to accommodate these transactions.
“It may be the case that they are paid through the banking system… there are some weaknesses in the system that we have to correct… I think the country should know the thinking of the Government and the direction in which we are moving and MPs [Members of Parliament] should take this as notice that in a few years’ time the system will be reformed in this nature,” he said.
The prime minister warned that people should not expect to be paid without fulfilling their assigned tasks.
“Every MP here would agree with me that there are some persons who want to get the income but not do the work, and those are the ones who will get us into trouble,” he stated.
At the same time, Holness stressed that the mitigation works were not the usual Christmas work — a highly anticipated source of short-term earning for some Jamaicans.
“In previous years we would have said that this is the Christmas work programme, but this is not the provision of funds for Christmas. I am sure people will see it in that light but this is a mitigation programme that happens to coincide with the Christmas season. It will generate some income, and many persons are looking forward to it, so we want to get it off the ground very quickly,” he told the House.
Outlining the disaggregation of the funds, he said each constituency will be allowed to use $7 million for road patching, but funds for that activity could not be reallocated to any other work under the programme, although a cumulative $5 million could be allocated from elsewhere within the programme to road patching. Four million dollars is to be spent on debushing, all of which can be reallocated, but funds from the other areas of the programme cannot be reallocated to it. Another $2 million is to be allocated to drain-cleaning, $1 million of which can be redirected to garbage collection; and $3 million is earmarked for garbage collection, none of which can be reallocated to other areas of the programme.
Holness explained that a hard limit has been placed on the debushing aspect to avoid the inherent risks associated with that part of the programme. He said the emphasis is on works which are more easily recognisable as having been completed.
He advised that the funds will remain available for use until the end of January, and any allocation not used will be reclaimed by the National Works Agency. He urged parliamentarians to ensure that debushing, garbage collection and drain-cleaning works are completed by mid-December in order to facilitate payment to contractors.