E.C.D. four-lane extension… Works Ministry to approach police with fraud allegations against contractor
The Public Works Ministry has disclosed that it will be approaching the police this week with evidence supporting its claims of fraud against the contractor, Falcon Transportation and Construction Services. This is in keeping with the advice of the Attorney General.
Although the Ministry had received the advice since late July, it waited until the contractor went public
accusing Ministry’s officials of pressuring him for kickbacks. The contractor believes that his constant refusals to give gifts cost him the $468 million contract.
After denying that the Ministry was told of the demands for gifts, Transport Minister Robeson Benn changed his tune yesterday, during a press conference at his Kingston Office. The Minister admitted that the contractor had sent a letter to the Ministry making assertions that a Clerk of Works had requested a gift, possibly a minibus. He assured that the letter was forwarded to the Ministry’s Work Services Group for investigation.
Benn said, “I recollect now in hindsight that there was some letter, and that the Clerk of Works and some Engineers were very upset with the assertions that were being made, but we will investigate on all of these things.”
“I want to feel pretty sure that given the fractious relations that our Clerk of Works and Engineers have had with respect to this project, it (the termination of the contract) has nothing to do with any requests,” he added.
Benn has invited the contractor to present the long list of demands for bribes to either the Ministry or the police to have the matter dealt with condignly. He emphasized that the mere cancellation of a contract does not require aspersions.
“I have already instructed my people, the Permanent Secretary and the Work Services Group, to investigate the issues as it relates to the Ministry. I will invite an independent person, otherwise the Guyana Association of Professional Engineers. I will be making contact with them to pronounce on our actions and issues relating to the contract…the legal aspect and professional aspect,” the Minister said.
However, even with the instructions to investigate allegations at the Ministry, which involves staff, the Minister said, “Outside of any other issues with respect to professional, ethical or any other issue, I am standing by my engineers. The press is fully aware when I needed to make changes in this Ministry we have taken actions to improve, and we are improving.”
The Minister expressed his displeasure that the names of engineers who were involved in meetings were listed in the media.
“This is to sully their reputation and to get them involved in issues which would either be otherwise slander or libelous, because a long list of Ministry’s Work Services Group officials, engineers and other people at lower levels are mentioned, and somehow there will be guilt by association,” Benn added.
According to Benn, corruption allegations by the contractor are not the issue. In fact, he believes that the contractor made the allegations to hurt the image of the Ministry.
“It appears as though there were no problems until we cancelled the contract. It appears this Ministry is being damned if it does and damned if it doesn’t. I am not prepared to be damned here when I know we are making genuine efforts to improve and to deliver to the Government and people of Guyana good engineering projects.”
Benn is adamant that fraudulent submissions and non-performance should be the focus.
He related that in April, a site visit showed numerous defects to the project and the contractor was asked to make corrections, but they were never done. But the fraudulent submissions of concrete testing results and purchase and provision of steel were the main bones of contention.
The Minister stressed that the contractor forged University of Guyana test result sheets and the signature of a Mr. Jackson. Explaining why a Ministry’s official signature was on the testing certificate, Benn stated that it was an acknowledgment of receipt and not the acceptance of the result.
With respect to non-performance, Benn said, “Significant portions of work have to be done. In spite of our supervisors and engineers rejecting work and saying they have to be reworked, we have been ignored.”
The contractor’s claim that Ministry’s equipment for testing the strength of concrete was malfunctioning was debunked. According to Benn, the Ministry’s lab equipment has always been functional and if there are issues with the equipment, the University of Guyana, LINMINE lab or any private laboratory could be used as alternatives.
Even with the extended problems the Ministry claims it has been having with the contractor, a total of $207M was spent on the project. Apparently, the advance payment on the bond was $140M.
“The works which were approved from April to June that relate to the issue were well short of the mobilization advance which he received, so the money was deductable with respect to it. So issues of balancing what he was advanced with respect to actual works done there were well behind…We couldn’t make additional payments given the fact that the mobilization advance itself wasn’t equal,” Benn stressed.
Painting a dim history of the contractor, Benn highlighted Guyana’s inefficiency in blacklisting defaulting contractors. “There is no specific procedure with respect to blacklisting contractors… he was prequalified, the lowest qualified tender.”
The Minister noted that this is not the first time the Ministry is encountering such a situation with the contractor. He revealed that in 2005 the contractor presented a fraudulent Certificate of Compliance purported to have been issued by the Guyana Revenue Authority. In addition, a sea defence contract was pulled from the contractor because of non-performance.
Benn disclosed that the Ministry of Agriculture is currently encountering performance issues with the contractor.
Meanwhile, in an invited comment, the contractor said that 80 percent of contractors are encountering similar problems, in relation to bribery demands, but are afraid to come forward for fear of victimization by the Ministry. He is suggesting that a Complaints Authority be established with persons of integrity to end the situation once and for all.
He said that he will be moving to the courts to seek payment for the approved work already done.
“A court action will obviously cost the Guyanese taxpayers a lot of money, but this is the way the government is spending it,” the contractor asserted.