A battle of words has once again begun between the Contractor General, Greg Christie and a public official. This time the contractor General has turned his attention to
the Minister of Information, Daryl Vaz, who questioned Christie’s investigation into the pending sale of Sandals Whitehouse.
Since his ascension to the Office of Contractor General there have been several verbal sparrings with politicians and public sector employees. It is recognized that while the Contractor General is so empowered to examine government contracts; Tact should always be employed in fulfilling the tasks of the post.
There is no doubt that the Office of the Contractor General is performing its mandate as per the Contractor General Act. Originally crafted in 1983, the Act notes that the Contractor General under Part II Section 4 (which is a commission of Parliament) is required to inter alia monitor the award and the implementation of government contracts with a view to ensuring that —
i. such contracts are awarded impartially and on merit;
ii. the circumstances in which each contract is awarded or, as the case may be, terminated, do not involve impropriety or irregularity;
iii. without prejudice to the functions of any public body in relation to any contract, the implementation of each such contract conforms to the terms thereof
In the six years that he has held the position, Mr. Christie has earned the respect of many Jamaicans. He is respected for being undaunted in tackling public officials about their failure in adhering to government procedures and procurement guidelines. Many Jamaicans support his actions because he highlights the breaches of Government mandated guidelines which is invariably linked to the possibility of corruption. However, in the process his approach and zeal to publish information about individuals and his response to those who comment on his investigations have raised questions about his professionalism and the place of due process. Indeed, he displays a cavalier approach where it would seem he is above scrutiny and questions.
Recently Minister Vaz stated that both the People’s National Party and the Jamaica Labour Party have concerns with the publicly incriminating pronouncements made by Christie and those of which he writes. The minister stated that remarks made by Christie seemingly scare competent individuals away from the public sector. Vaz again commented on the approach taken by the Contractor General in reviewing the proposal for the sale of the Sandals Whitehouse property to Gorestew Limited. Immediately, the Contractor General responded to Vaz just stopping short of chastising him for commenting on the matter. The Contractor General, in a press release, stated that “if the minister does not like how the OCG approaches its investigations or who the OCG investigates, he should simply change the law or take the requisite steps to immediately disband the commission of the contractor general.”
It must be highlighted that the work of Greg Christie is respected and that democracies cannot function well if their public institutions fail or under-perform. Mr. Christie is placed in the position not to be liked; in fact, it may be argued that the post of Contractor General requires a personality that revels in universal dislike, a hermit of sorts. However, approach is also very important and though Mr. Christie is urged to continue the work that he is doing, he should adjust the way in which he responds to people who criticize him and his work. In respect of Minister Vaz’s suggestion that “in his approach he should be careful that he does not scare good individuals from the public sector,” this comment should not be dismissed as the ruminations of a Politician with one eye on a second term. It should be looked at within the high principles of the constitution that affords individuals the freedom of speech and the opportunity of a fair trial.
Prime Minister Golding, in a presentation at a Generation 2000 meeting stated that while he commends the Contractor General for his work he has some concerns. The concerns are linked to Christie’s public pronouncements regarding investigations, and what he calls the “haste to publish even before the basis of the investigations and the questions of persons who may be involved are clearly identified.” Good criticism should be welcomed by the Contractor General; people should be free to comment without being verbally attacked. It is also important that in his work the integrity and presumed innocence of public officials be protected and zeal doesn’t become the order of the day.