Not ‘dissing’ Dirk

Not ‘dissing’ Dirk

Integrity Commission says while it disagreed with Rooms Report there is no rift with former contractor general

BY ARTHUR HALL
Editor-at-large
halla@jamaicaobserver.com

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

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THE commissioners of the Integrity Commission have defended their decision to distance themselves from the ‘Rooms on the Beach Report’ done by the former Office of the Contractor General (OCG), but they have denied that this signals a rift with Dirk Harrison.

At their first media briefing yesterday, the commissioners, led by chairman retired Justice Karl Harrison, dismissed speculation that they were throwing Harrison under the proverbial bus.

“The commission has no quarrel with Mr Harrison. There has been difference of opinions specific to the Rooms Report from the commission’s view point, but this does not amount to a rift or, as has been said, bad blood between the commission and himself,” Justice Harrison told journalists at the media briefing for where Dirk Harrison (no relation to Justice Harrison) sent an excuse for his absence.

“It was not our intention to bring into disrepute the credibility of the findings which were contained in the final report which was submitted to the Houses of Parliament, neither was it the board of commissioners’ intention to discredit the tremendous contribution which the former contractor general, Mr Dirk Harrison, has made to good governance and public accountability,” said Justice Harrison.

“The concerns expressed by the commissioners were in relation to the draft report and not the final report that was submitted. We must point out… that the language used in the draft report was inflammatory in some areas and was not supported by the evidence,” added Justice Harrison.

Fellow commissioner and former Contractor General Dr Derrick McKoy supported his chairman as he underscored that the probe into the sale of prime beachfront properties in Ocho Rios, St Ann by the Urban Development Corporation (UDC) was started by the OCG before the Integrity Commission was established.

The properties, which housed the Rooms on the Beach hotel, were sold to Puerto Caribe Properties Limited, the operators of Moon Palace Jamaica, for below the valuation price.

According to the OCG, ministerial interference caused the UDC to sell the properties for US$7.2 million, although it had initially set a sale price of US$9.3 million and had received independent valuations which gave a cumulative lowest value of US$11.8 million.

However, minister without portfolio in the Ministry of Economic Growth and Job Creation Daryl Vaz said the project involved an investment valued at US$225 million in the first phase and US$270 million in the second phase.

Vaz also said that the investment was earmarked to create 2,200 direct jobs during the first construction phase and 600 permanent jobs. In the second phase it is projected to create an additional 1,500 jobs during the construction phase and 3,000 indirect jobs.

“The Government of Jamaica is projected to receive more than US$9 million in revenue during the first year of the concluded investment, US$10 million during the second year, and approximately US$11 million in revenue during the third year,” added Vaz.

Yesterday, McKoy said that had the Rooms Report been done by the Integrity Commission it might have arrived at different conclusions to those of Harrison, who was picked to act as head of the commission’s Corruption Prosecution Division, but who remains in limbo while matters relating to his pension as contractor general are resolved.

McKoy used as an example the finding of the contractor general that the sale was negotiated by Vaz, while the report also had a statement by UDC Chairman Ransford Braham that the UDC negotiated the contract.

“If it were the commission’s report we would need to explain that. We would need to explain why would you disparage the evidential statement of someone saying the UDC negotiated it, but it was his (Harrison’s) interpretation of who negotiated it; and there were others like that,” said McKoy.

“But we agreed it is his report and he may make those interpretations. He may give that view; we may not accept that view. I would not accept that view. I would have to give an explanation as to why I am discounting the piece of evidence that he presents,” McKoy said.

“I certainly do not accept all that he has asserted, and I think the public and Parliament would need an explanation on how I arrived at that conclusion,” added McKoy, a noted attorney-at-law who served as contractor general between 1998 and 2005.

McKoy argued that the Integrity Commission needs to be careful that it does not overstep its remit by engaging in a debate about government policy.

He also said that the commission should be concerned about how well the Government behaves.

Justice Harrison and McKoy are joined as commissioners by retired Justice Seymour Panton, Auditor General Pamela Monroe Ellis, and tax expert Eric Crawford.

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