I have been walking the streets ever since President Bharrat Jagdeo announced the date for the 2011 elections and I have seen a lot. I have seen people working late at nights putting up posters supporting or promoting their individual presidential candidates; I have seen young people talking to older folk about the importance of voting and I have seen a sudden explosion in road construction.
I have also seen a dramatic increase in the award of contracts.
Of course, the most astonishing thing was the announcement of pay increases for public servants , a whopping eight percent that dwarfed the traditional five per cent that was offered routinely each year for the past four or five years.
What the pay increases mean is that people are going to find a hefty pay package a few days before November 28 when they are supposed to go to the polls to elect a government. In the not too distant past, this payout was intended to allow the people to have that bit more money to spend on Christmas preparations.
No sooner had the award been announced than one political party described it as bribery. I asked whether there would have been a similar condemnation if no money had been awarded to the workers and the elections had passed and Christmas had come. I always say that money is never too much for the working class. Many have been suffering, some silently, while others gave up, with the result that their children go astray and become a menace to the rest of society.
But it is the award of the road contracts that have me smiling. Roads that were ignored for almost a decade have suddenly caught the attention of the administration. There could be only two explanations. It could be that there is a lot of money to spend and the government has decided to use it for social works rather than having it lying idle in the treasury.
A roadway in Nandy Park was ignored until now; another in La Penitence was an unknown entity until now. Surprise of surprises.
Some time back, I happened to ask President Jagdeo about extra budget spending and he told me that once the economy performs better than expected that he was going to use the additional money to make the lives of people more comfortable.
No doubt there is a lot of extra money, with the Guyana Revenue Authority raking in the lion’s share. This was an entity that was targeted to bring in about $25 billion when the Value Added Tax was introduced. I have watched the revenue grow to almost $70 billion. That is a lot of extra money and it has allowed for a lot of social development.
I can never understand politics. We complain about the tax burden on the workers and we demand that this burden be reduced. But in the same breath we want to see so much social development that only the extra money would allow.
Then again, there is the argument that social development could be undertaken at the same level, but at a cheaper cost, because the contractors are siphoning off a lot of money from the public treasury. Some of them are so unscrupulous that they not only inflate the cost of the work, but they take even more by producing sub-standard work that would have to be revisited within months. As has come to be expected, none has ever been penalized and I cannot understand why.
There is now a mad drive to complete works on the Parika and Supenaam stellings in time for the arrival of two ferry vessels from China. These works are to be completed by December. The tenders went out and there were competitive bids. BK International was awarded the contracts for the modification of the stellings at Parika and Supenaam.
Not so long ago, BK International was taken to task for shoddy work on the very Supenaam Stelling. The government had spent some $450 million to have that stelling in place, but the first day it went into operation a vehicle fell into the river because the pontoon at the end of the stelling sank.
That stelling had been left idle for a long time until it began to take on the title of a white elephant. Kaieteur News made it an object of attention and the government rushed to make it operational.
Both the Prime Minister, Sam Hinds, and the Ministry of Works were livid. Works Minister Robeson Benn called a press conference and he was caustic about the work that BK International did. There was talk about penalizing the contractor.
BK International immediately penned a report denying any blame. He later wrote another letter apologizing for some of the comments he made. But there was the question of the government pursuing legal action over the stelling.
Lo and behold, the very contractor was awarded a further $138 million to modify the very Supenaam stelling. In the wake of its angry outburst over the work done on the stelling at a cost of a whopping $400 million the government spent a further $170 million on remedial works.
In no other country, unless the very corrupt, could I find a case of a contractor being on the potential blacklist and still being given contracts of a similar nature that caused the problem in the first place.
I know that reporters have asked about the move by the government to recoup the money it had to spend to make the Supenaam stelling operational and got a host of answers. When last I checked, Prime Minister Sam Hinds had not even released the findings of the investigation that was mandated by none other than President Jagdeo.
I know that BK International has promised to complete the works on the Parika and Supenaam stellings within four months. Two of those four months have elapsed and there is not much to show. The Parika Stelling is to be modified at a cost of $240 million, according to the bid that BK International submitted.
All I can say is that this is election time and the government would not want to rock any boats.
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