Dfid Suspending Funding For Projects on Montserrat Expose Hidden Issues

Montserrat Road Project

Release Date

Tuesday, May 14, 2013


Over the years following and analysing the redevelopment debate for Montserrat, a lot of blame has been directed towards the squadron of politicians who have presented themselves to lead the island towards that brighter future.

The realisation is that the development Montserratians crave is not a political issue any longer. Politicians are not the absolute answer to the island's future prosperity. The politician with the correct mix of leadership attributes, compassion, transparency and an inclusive governing style goes a long way. But such becomes futile when the individuals who surround these politicians, charged with executing policy, have their own agenda.

Many persons have blamed Premier Rueben T Meade for much of what ails Montserrat currently. In fairness, the question to ask also is, if the Premier does not stamp his authority or meddle in the other Ministries, as some accuse him of doing, will anything get done?

Blaming Premier Meade is easy fodder. He is the leader, so why not? However, what of the other Ministers and Parliamentary Secretaries who make up this administration who also talk and make promises but from all reports reaching MNI Alive, are afraid or unwilling to take tough decisions, or be held accountable for those decisions that are taken on their behalf within their Ministries? What of some government workers who are charged with executing certain functions but instead frustrate development efforts and real progress for Montserrat and her people? There are some Permanent Secretaries and others, it is said, who are skilled in frustrating progress. How do things stand currently, I wonder, with the benchmarks set forth in the signed Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Dfid to do with funding release for key development projects. There is an MoU review soon to take place and the information from that will be keenly dissected for a public wanting to know where things stand.

As annoying as it may be to some reading this piece, without a kick up the rear from the Premier, frankly not much will be achieved in some instances. There are things that the Premier needs to do better. We can all agree on that. Those who have read my articles over the years know I take no issue in calling a spade a spade in my analysis of politics and policy.

A great journalist in Mr Howell Bramble passed away recently. I invoke his name, as I wonder what Howell would have thought and shared on the recent announcements coming out of Montserrat that the Department for International Development (Dfid) has shut down funding for two ongoing projects on Montserrat; both the A1 Road Project, and also funding for the public works mechanical workshop project.

Dfid stated in a Press Release regarding the mechanical workshop project On the 23rd April 2012 GoM wrote to DFID informing us of an on-going investigation into procurement practices in the implementation of this project. GoM requested technical assistance to support an audit of the project. An independent procurement audit was commissioned and conducted by the Auditor General in January 2013. While we await the outcome of the audit, DFID has suspended any further funding of the project. In the interim, DFID will conduct an annual review of the project as stipulated in our joint project MoU.

On the A1 Road Project suspension Dfid also stated via a media release DFID have consistently asked for a detailed program outlining activities and timelines to completion. This has not been forthcoming and the chaotic nature of the implementation does not give us confidence that the project is delivering as planned. Equally, it is difficult to argue that the project is demonstrating value for money let alone meeting the needs of the Montserratian public.

Many comments have been swirling. Some have even taken to berating the Dfid Representative on Montserrat, Mr Kimbugwe, for simply doing his job. Unfounded and reprehensible are some of the comments.

There is one thing that is clear in both these suspensions, and that is there is an issue of accountability in some quarters of the Meade administration.

The Ministries being affected and called into question in both these instances is the Ministry of Communications and Works, of which the Hon Kirnon holds jurisdiction. The fact begets, that if documents were requested by Montserrat's primary funding agency, to do primarily with matters of accountability and how monies are being spent, and these documents have not come forward, then heads should indeed roll and someone ought to be giving account as to why these documents have not been kept in order.

Ron Beardsley, Director of PWD responded to Dfid's suspension of funding by stating that PWD is presently working to bolster the management supervision of the road programme and will shortly complete negotiations with a project manager in order that the work can resume.

He added that the lack of aggregate on island has been an on-going challenge and they are presently awaiting the arrival of materials from abroad.

This statement by Mr Beardsley seems to infer that the project was being clumsily managed before the demands by Dfid for accountability. With a total of EC$23.1 million earmarked for the road project, Dfid has a right to be concerned about the project's implementation.

It is this request that has seen some individuals taking to assassinate the character of the Dfid representative on island. Is this the level of transparency some wish to see enforced on Montserrat - mediocre and suspect?

Albeit, the Ministry of Comms & Works did say that they were experiencing delays due to issues sourcing material to complete some of the works. This is acceptable certainly. The objective mind will not take any issue with that. But the question remains where is the paperwork to show how the monies have been spent?

Very reliable sources tell MNI Alive that the Minister in charge of Comms & Works refused on occasions to attend meeting requests to discuss the project's implementation and the issues that were plaguing its completion. Instead the Honourable gentleman took to derisive rhetoric towards the Dfid Representative on Montserrat for daring to halt funding for a project that has gone lopsided under the Minister's watch. Of all the meetings, MNI Alive understands that were requested of the Minister, only one was attended.

And one wonders why Montserrat's progress is moving along at a snail's pace? It is an acute mixture of political nonchalance and selective aggrandizement, coupled with job security and power exercises trumping a Montserrat first mentality.

I am further and further led to grapple with the realisation that Montserrat's problems are not just those of political leadership. We have a people problem.

Politics is a sideshow and the actors that take the stage would have you believe that they are relevant to the script, when in fact they play their hand and their political skill to distract the electorate.

Politicians will be politicians. Leave them to perform on their stage. Perhaps it is the set up of our governmental system that is flawed and lends to a repetitive dance to exercise power in a community of only five thousand.

Dfid is finally showing its hand and putting some breaks on the gravy train that only a select few have been benefitting from. Perhaps now we can have some real progress for the island and less of the sideshows. This story is certainly one to watch.

Jeevan Robinson is Founder and Editor-in-Chief of MNI Alive. MNI Alive is a global Caribbean marketing, networking and information (MNI) media house. He can be reached at jeevan@mnialive.com

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