NO CHARGES 

The Integrity Commission’s director of corruption prosecution has ruled that no charges are to be brought against Prime Minister Andrew Holness in relation to a conflict of interest accusation levelled at him over two contracts awarded to a company owned by a friend of his 14 years ago when he was education minister.

A similar ruling was made in relation to the National Works Agency (NWA), Ministry of Education, and the Social Development Commission (SDC) pertaining to breaches of the public sector procurement regulations committed between 2006 and 2009.

The ruling, signed by Director of Corruption Prosecution Keisha Prince-Kameka on January 12, 2023 was made public on Thursday, two days after the Integrity Commission tabled in Parliament its October 4, 2022 report on its investigation in which it stated that Holness had been referred to the director of corruption prosecution.

In its report, the Integrity Commission said its director of investigation had probed allegations that contracts had been awarded to Westcon Construction Limited between February 2007 and November 2009, and that there is a connection and/or relationship between Holness and the proprietors, Robert Garvin and Donovan Simpson.

According to the commission, the investigation sought to ascertain, inter alia, (a) the nature and particulars of Government contracts that were awarded to Westcon during the relevant period; (b) the nature and extent of the relationship between Holness and the directors of Westcon; (c) the extent of the involvement, if any, of Holness in the award of Government contracts to Westcon; (d) whether the circumstances surrounding the award of contracts and/or the process(es) utilised by the Ministry of Education, Youth and Information (MOEYI), the NWA, and the SDC was devoid of irregularity and impropriety and was fair and transparent.

The commission said it found that a total of 10 contracts were awarded by the Ministry of Education to Westcon during the period February 14, 2007 and November 10, 2009.

Of the 10 contracts, only five were reported to the Office of the Contractor General by way of the education ministry’s quarterly contract award (QCA) reports for the period.

The commission said that the direct contracting procurement methodology was utilised in one instance, and it was disclosed by the MOEYI that the criterion for the “lowest responsive tender” was utilised in the remaining nine instances.

“The 10 contracts awarded by the MOEYI were between the contract values of $1,413,439.00 and $3,360,650.00 and had a cumulative value of $21,882,491.00,” the commission said.

It also reported that, by way of a statutory requisition dated May 17, 2017, it sought to ascertain whether Holness (a) had knowledge of the circumstances surrounding the award of contract to Westcon by the Ministry of Education, (b) played any role or executed any functions in respect of the award of contracts to Westcon, and (c) made any decisions or gave any directives in relation to the process for the award of contracts to the company.

However, in her ruling, the director of corruption prosecution said, in relation to the accusations against the prime minister, “no criminal charges can be laid” as additional material made available “failed to contradict or provide more evidence in support of the offences contemplated”.

Regarding the NWA, MOEYI, and SDC, Prince-Kameka said “Though evidence has been identified sufficient to mount charges for the noted offences, the prosecution would be hard-pressed to resist an abuse of process application with regard to undue delay.”

Additionally, in relation to SDC Executive Director Dr Dwayne Vernon, who was accused of wilfully making a false statement to mislead the contractor general, the director of corruption prosecution said “the evidence does not reveal a prima facie case with a realistic prospect of conviction in relation to the alleged offence, therefore no criminal charges are being recommended in respect of this offence”.

On Wednesday night, after the Integrity Commission report was publicised, Holness rejected the conflict of interest accusation.

He said that in his response to the commission’s queries he had “made it absolutely clear that at no time have I ever exercised influence on any process for the award of contracts”.

“I strongly disagree with the findings of the Integrity Commission regarding conflict of interest based on mere association,” the prime minister said, adding, “The failure of agencies 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.”

He said it has been a long-standing practice that Members of Parliament are asked to recommend local contractors to undertake works in their constituencies as a practical matter.

Holness also said the Integrity Commission’s report “ignores the circumstances of an emergency where in 2008 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”.