What do the people who live in New Market (St Elizabeth), Wakefield (St Catherine), Smithfield (Westmoreland), Salt Marsh (Trelawny), Jack’s River (St Mary) have in common over the last two years? The citizens in each of these districts, having exhausted all other possibilities, found it necessary to take to the streets in protest against bad road conditions.
From reports in the media, especially following recent heavy rains in more districts, particularly in St Thomas and Portland, could be named where rural residents blocked roads because they could not get their produce to market, their sick to clinics and their children to school because of deteriorating, in some cases, disappearing roads.
No wonder the Global Competitiveness Report 2016-2017 places Jamaica at No. 79 of 138 countries when it comes to ‘Quality of Roads’. And let it be clear, the bad roads that our people are justly protesting against put us in the bottom half of the Quality of Roads measure, despite Highway 2000. It is, therefore, cold comfort that, five years ago, our score and ranking globally was much lower.
JAMAICA’S ROAD NETWORK
In fact, the National Security Policy For Jamaica 2013 (laid by the prime minister in Parliament as Ministry Paper 63, April 2014) described Jamaica as having “simultaneously one of the most dense road networks in the world, and one of the worst road networks in the world in terms of the percentage of roads in good condition”.
The Security Policy attributed this unsatisfactory condition, in large measure, to political corruption. It had this to say: “The direction of public works contracts into the hands of political affiliates has … been particularly damaging, as this has often resulted in unnecessarily expensive or poor-quality infrastructure. For example, a contract to build a road might provide an opportunity to reward political affiliates, and shoddy road construction would ensure that the road surface would crumble, which would then allow the issuing of another contract to resurface the roads.”
And what material are these political contractors using? I dare say, M. Rose Grant’s letter to The Gleaner (May 8, 2017) may not be far from the truth. Having “lost count of the number of times that the Grants Pen ford and Mannings Hill Road … have been patched”, M. Grant is “convinced that the contractors are using a mix of flour, black polish, and tar oil to patch these areas …”.
Even if the quality materials are not exactly as M. Rose Grant describes, take a careful look at what Jamaica’s auditor general tells us in her Performance Report of the National Works Agency (December 2015): “NWA results revealed that 36 subcontractors submitted inauthentic test results … . Further, between June 2013 and June 2014, NWA detected 15 instances whereby contractors submitted false quality-control test results for material used in road construction and rehabilitation works. The inauthentic test results were related to projects with total project costs of $813 million.” And these were only detected after the horse had gone through the gate.
The burden of taxation on the backs of the Jamaican people and the distress caused by bad road conditions demands the firmest possible action. Any subcontractor who falsifies test results or uses substandard material for road rehabilitation must be banned from any future contract. Road contracts above a certain minimum must only be granted to contractors registered with the National Contracts Commission, and where a contractor is found to have falsified an application to qualify for registration, they must be prosecuted and punished for fraud or perjury to the full extent of the law.
This proposal had been made previously by former Contractor General Greg Christie. He told us that “by mid-2012, more than 80 works contractors had been removed from the NCC’s list of registered contractors, and referred to the police, on account of the sworn but false material representations that they had made in their contractual registration or re-registration applications to the NCC.”
Our citizens must demand that the police conduct the necessary investigations and that the proposed director of corruption prosecutions (to be established under the Integrity Commission Act) vigorously pursue such cases. Additionally, our citizens need to be trained in conducting social audits, “so that they themselves might detect, report and deter corruption in road rehabilitation.”
Regrettably, the alternative is to continue throwing taxpayers’ dollars down the drain, protesting against the misery of bad roads today, to be followed by patching with “flour, black polish and tar oil” the next day, only to have the same ‘patchers’ return after the patch is washed away the following week.