…investigation ordered, errant officers could face courts — PAC Chair
Reminiscent of the 2006 Auditor General’s Report, where contractors were overpaid for works and the relevant ministry was unable to recoup, Auditor General Deodat Sharma has received directives from the Public Accounts Committee to investigate a project undertaken in Region Ten.
In a letter addressed to the Local Government Minister Kellawan Lall, Regional Chairman Mortimer Mingo requested Sharma to investigate irregularities in the execution of some projects worth millions of dollars at Coomacka, St Lust, and De Veldt.
According to Mingo in the letter to Sharma, he visited Coomacka Health Post and the St Thomas Primary School, to check the facilities and physical conditions.
He noted that, in the vicinity of the Health Post and school, a building that once housed the primary school was to be converted to a teachers’ quarters in 2007; but, at this time, the building was only about 30 per cent completed.
He noted, too, that on the same day, a visit was also made to the St Lust School and the teacher’s quarters, and it was also noted that the teachers’ quarters at that location was also incomplete.
According to Mingo, a visit was also made to De Veldt, where a meeting was held with residents there, who informed him and his visiting party of issues that were affecting them.
These included urgent repairs and maintenance to be done to the school before the beginning of the new school year.
“It was observed that the roof of the school was leaking, and there was need for repairs to the toilet facilities amongst other works that were needed to be done…Having recalled that repairs and maintenance works should have been done at this school, I enquired from the Chairman of the De Veldt CDC if any repairs were done to the school in 2007.”
Mingo related that he was informed that no works were done on the school for last year 2007.
He noted that, on his return to office, he was informed by the Regional Education Officer that all the projects that were undertaken in the Berbice River in 2007 were completed on time, and all payments were made.
“I again told him of my observations, and further requested of him to supply me with the name of the contractor/s awarded the contracts for the teachers’ quarters at St Thomas and St Lust, and the repairs and maintenance works at the De Veldt Primary School; the contract sum for each of these works; the date/s of the award of these contracts, and the commencement date of each contract, also the date of completion for each contract and the bill of quantities for each of the contracted projects.”
He noted that after not receiving the requested information from the Clerk of Council/REO, he consulted the Regional Tender Board file for 2007, observed that the Regional Tender and Procurement Board awarded the conversion of the old St Thomas Primary School to accommodate quarters for teachers as a contract to ‘All Purpose Construction Company’ on March 22, 2007 for the sum of $1, 533, 438.
The enclosure of the bottom flat of the St Lust Teachers quarters’ contract was awarded to the same company on the same day to the tune of $2,509,198.
Repairs and maintenance of the De Veldt Primary School was also awarded as a contract to the same company one the same day for the sum of $2,014,296.
In his request, Mingo noted that in light of the available information, and based on the fact that the projects were awarded in 2007 and were said to be satisfactorily completed, the contracted sum was fully paid to the contractor.
Chairman of the Public Affairs Committee, Volda Lawrence, yesterday confirmed that a directive was issued to Sharma to investigate the perceived irregularities.
The ‘completed’ works, when assessed by Mingo, were found to be far from completed. Windows are yet to be installed, roofing provided inadequate covering, doors were yet to be installed, sections of walls were missing, and a completely rotted step was still in place. These were among the visible defects found in the ‘completed’ projects.
According to Lawrence, for several years irregularities continue to recur, especially in the sense that contractors who were paid for projects that were not fully completed were continuously awarded contracts.
She noted also that there was the instance of too many contracts that were being split to avoid tender board procedures.
She noted that during previous perusals of the 2004 and 2005 reports, the PAC asked the various ministries to have the deviant contractors blacklisted.
The PAC will also seek to impress upon the various subject ministers to enforce the Financial Administration and Audit Act, whereby errant accounting officers may face the courts and fines be imposed.
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