Jamaica’s anti-corruption agency focuses on prime minister

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) — Jamaican Prime Minister Andrew Holness is under scrutiny after an anti-corruption agency issued a lengthy report that suggests a potential conflict of interest involving him and contracts awarded to a construction company, some of which were not reported.

The island’s Integrity Commission noted in its report issued Wednesday that it referred the case to Jamaica’s director of corruption prosecution, who will review the findings. The report also was shared with the speaker of Jamaica’s House of Representatives, who is a member of Holness’ Jamaica Labor Party.

Holness released a statement noting that the matter occurred nearly two decades ago, and 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.”

He also noted that it’s a longstanding practice for members of Parliament to recommend local contractors to undertake works in their constituencies, and added that he has referred the commission’s report to his lawyers.

The commission’s investigation focused on 10 contracts awarded to a construction company from 2007 to 2009, when Holness was minister of education. Only five of those were reported to the Office of the Contractor General as required by law, according to the report.

The contracts totaled nearly $142,000 and were for work ranging from roof repairs to renovation of a teachers’ cottage.

The commission found that the prime minister has known two directors and shareholders of Westcon Construction Limited for more than 20 years. Holness said one of them that he knows personally is a former employee in his constituency and personal business, and the other is known to him casually and was hired to do land surveying work, according to the report.

Officials with the construction company could not be immediately reached for comment.

The investigation began after a local TV news program in May 2016 questioned the contracts and the relationship between Holness and the construction company officials.

It was not clear if Jamaica’s director of corruption prosecution has a deadline to respond to the commission’s findings and whether her response could be appealed by attorneys for Holness.

The commission did not immediately return a message for comment.

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