– through Govt’s. Value For Money approach
It appears that if you see a contractor working on a public project in your community and shortchanging the work, there’s actually something you can do about it.
According to Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Local Government and Regional Development, Nigel Dharamlall, the tide may actually be turning on substandard works and the people who defraud the nation by encouraging same. He stated in a recent interview that as part of the Government’s Value For Money approach, all interventions should enhance the lives of the citizens that they were meant to serve.
A scan of newspaper headlines over the past few weeks paints a very different picture. Take for instance the culverts of Canal Number Two, West Bank Demerara, where residents have spoken out on the use of High Density Polyethylene pipes with what appears to be no supporting structure to prevent the pipes from buckling under the weight of the earth above them.
This newspaper reported that the pipes were actually replacements for concrete culverts, laid down several months earlier which had themselves collapsed. Another instance where community projects do not live up to par is that of the recent road works in Diamond, East Bank Demerara, where a concerned resident had to blow the whistle on a contractor who was not fulfilling his obligations regarding the contract specifications.
That resident’s report eventually made its way to the Ministry of Local Government.
Dharamlall stated that project implementation is a sore issue for Government and that the Office of the President has issued a mandate which calls for enhanced monitoring and greater supervision of Government funded interventions. To do this, the Ministry of Local Government and by extension their regional and neighbourhood offices are embracing a number of approaches.
One of these is an initiative called Voluntary Supervision. Also known as ‘Social Auditing’, it calls upon community minded residents who will have open and full access to information on projects being undertaken in their communities as well as the service providers on those works. It gives the residents access to Bills of Quantity and Project Specifications.
Under the banner of Voluntary Supervision, there are several areas to be addressed by the Ministry. The first is establishing a hotline in the Ministry where information and feedback on the programme can be received without the hassle of going through a number of offices.
The hotline is expected to be functioning by November. The next step is to increase the visibility of the offices and officials of the RDCs and the NDCs.
This end, Dharamlall noted, will be achieved by having these officials spending more of their time in the communities interacting with the residents. There will also be a push to ensure that the bills of quantities and contract specifications will be made available to the people of the communities where these works are being undertaken.
According to Dharamlall, the Ministry will also be recruiting local interlocutors. These are the folks who will be the resident volunteers, mostly retired teachers and other such persons who will have the time and the faculties to undertake the responsibilities required of them.
He says that his Ministry will train these persons through the RDCs and NDCs on how to read the documents and how to evaluate what they see on worksites.
The workers in these offices will also be trained to handle the new demands that will come with incorporating Voluntary Supervision into the regular business of these businesses.
The PS pointed out that funding for this initiative is from the Ministry’s operational budget and has been on the cards for some time now. This initiative is not a new one, he claimed, but apparently the Ministry is now making an effort to standardise the procedure.
The Diamond road works are an example of the kind of process that Dharamlall is describing when he speaks of Voluntary Supervision. From the ‘concerned, community-minded resident’ who made the initial report of shoddy work, to the fact that he was able to do so using the contract specifications that were available publicly as well as the reporting mechanism available through the local NDC office.
It typifies the flow that Voluntary Supervision will take once it is being fully used.
An investigation was launched based on the resident’s report and according to Mr. Dharamlall, the Ministry has made its recommendations to the NDC, which happens to be the contracting body, therefore any action must come from that front. He noted that he was unable to comment on the nature of the recommendations.
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