The government is not happy that Kaieteur News is taking a look at some of the contracts awarded in the Drainage and Irrigation sector. Such has been the anger that Agriculture Minister Robert Persaud, by way of press releases and public comments, has actually accused the newspaper of waging a campaign against him.
Such a feeling would only come about because of ultra-sensitivity. Surely Minister Persaud does not handle the money that goes into the contract and surely he does not have a say as to whom the contracts are awarded. So why the anger on the part of the Minister?
One would expect that the Minister would, either through his press liaison or by way of a special campaign, have set about explaining the nature of the contracts.
The fact is that engineers are the first to design the contracts. They price the various aspects. In the case of a sluice, the engineers would examine the dimensions of the components, and calculate the cost of the materials that would go into the construction of the various sections.
For example, the engineer would determine that it would take a certain volume of cement and therefore a certain number of sacks. He then determines the cost of the cement. The steel is another component; the contractor estimates the length of steel; then the wood and the labour costs are taken into consideration.
The estimate then goes to some body that examines the engineers’ estimates before these are then passed to Central Government who must provide the money. This is what appears to be the problem. People in the know feel that these contracts are too highly priced; they feel that the engineers simply put down figures on the contracts.
But there is a grey area here. If the engineers’ estimates are too high, then how can one explain the contractors placing bids within the range of the engineers’ estimates?
There are many views. There has always been talk of rampant corruption in the society and while very few have provided evidence, many are just prepared to talk. They are the ones who beg to remain anonymous “for fear of victimisation”. Indeed, President Bharrat Jagdeo has often asked for the evidence to be produced and there are those who say that they have produced evidence but that nothing happened.
President Jagdeo, in response to such charges, is quick to point out that people have been relieved of their jobs because in most cases the evidence would not hold up in a court of law.
But the talk of corruption continues and there is nothing that would stop such talk because in the field of construction there are not too many contractors. In fact, everybody knows everybody and it is not impossible for the engineers to talk about a contract and their estimates. This conversation could possibly reach the ears of the contractors, hence the seemingly corresponding bids by the contractors.
We have spoken with engineers who said that there have been instances when they produced their estimates and were asked to adjust these upwards. These engineers also said that on review they often concluded that their estimates were accurate but that precedence—the fact of similar contracts in the past coming in higher—often dictated the review.
For example, the fence of a pump station cost in excess of four million dollars. The painting of the same pump station cost some $1.5 million. People who have done similar jobs for themselves have said that with that kind of money, they could have done the same job many times over. This is the crux of the matter; this is what has sparked the investigation of the contracts and the anger of the Agriculture Minister who feels that he is being attacked.
Similar queries abound and it is the duty of the government to provide answers to these queries. Surely there must be explanations, and feasible ones at that, but these are not forthcoming,
Money is never at a premium and when the society feels cheated out of money it pays by way of taxes and other sources, then people will talk.
For its part, the government cannot exhibit anger; it must account to the people it leads. This is the current duty of Kaieteur News, to seek answers to the many questions being asked.
We had taken the government seriously when President Jagdeo said that reporters are lazy and that there is need for investigative reporting. This is the case now.
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