In recent years, there has been increasing scrutiny of the billions of dollars being spent by consecutive governments on construction projects and for paying for services from suppliers.
The tender process, until now, has been largely shrouded in secrecy.
Despite tougher laws and the establishing of the Public Procurement Commission (PPC), there is growing evidence that contractors, Government engineers and others in the ministries and agencies are still finding ways to beat the system.
Recently, the spotlight was brought sharply down on the role of the in-house engineers at the various ministries, regional administrations and state agencies.
They play a crucial role. One of them is the preparations of what is known as Engineer’s Estimates.
Using market prices, the engineers would work to prepare estimates of what a project should cost.
It would include cost of steel, cement, labour, transportation, nails and roofing materials.
The use of excavators, among other things, would also be factored in the cost.
The idea for the Engineer’s Estimate is for the ministry or state agency to have a realistic cost that would
be used as guide for budgeting purposes.
However, in recent years, it has been found that the Engineer’s Estimates are way above what is being submitted by contractors.
It has raised serious questions about the competence of the engineers and brought into the equation the strong possibilities of collusion with contractors.
Over the weekend, one major contractor, Peter Lewis, who insisted that his company is being sidelined, made some damning claims.
He said that engineers are the crooks in the country’s procurement system.
In fact, the process starts with them and ends with them.
On Tuesday, there were at least two glaring cases in which the engineers seem far removed from reality or that it could be concluded that something else was happening.
One tender was for the completion of a building for the Upper Corentyne Industrial Training Centre.
The Engineer’s Estimate for the work was $12,042,800.
There were 12 bids. All came in under the Engineer’s Estimate. The lowest was at $7.2M.
There was another one where the Engineer’s Estimate was higher than the 14 bidders.
The job was for the rehabilitation of the Science Lab of the St Mary’s Secondary School.
The Engineer’s Estimate was $13,312,000.
Contractors have been taking note of the opening of the tenders which are covered and published by Kaieteur News and Stabroek News, another newspaper.
“How do you have an in-house engineer who is helping to put together the tender documents, so that contractors can bid, have an estimate that is higher than what people are bidding? These are the same engineers that maybe have to evaluate the tenders and even monitor the works? “President David Granger needs to look into this. The question to ask is, if we really need engineers and their estimates?” one contractor who is familiar with the process asked.
Another contractor, Managing Partner of Associated Construction Services, over the weekend called on President David Granger to intervene and to launch an inquiry.
There are several layers to the fraud that is occurring with the public bidding.
He explained that from his investigations, engineers at ministries would collaborate with particular contractors in a kickback scheme.
For example, for a road in the hinterlands, the amount of material, especially sand, is inflated.
Contractors not in the know would submit estimates based on the work to be done.
What would happen, Peter Lewis explained, is that the contractor who bids nearest to the engineer’s inflated figures would get the job.
The rest are disqualified.
Then there is an after bidding scam where “henchmen” of the ministries and agencies would contact contractors for negotiations.
“I am not getting jobs because I am not willing to pay,” Lewis said last week.
Contractors have been hesitant to come forward fearing repercussions as there are a variety of reasons that can be used by ministries and agencies to turn a bid.
Lewis has been pounding the Ministry of Public Infrastructure (MPI), on his Facebook page, questioning them.
He said that two years ago, he installed the largest asphalt plant of the country, in Linden. More than 90 percent of the staffers are from there.
But there were never any jobs for the company.
Last August, a man (name given), who said he represents a particular ministry, approached Lewis and asked for 10 percent of a particular contract to ensure it is awarded to the contractor’s company.
“This happened last year. This corruption is affecting me and because of my stance, I am not getting any work. Imagine I have five motor graders and can’t get any work.
According to Lewis, if the powers that be could check with is happening on the hinterland roads, it would tell a shocking story of what really is going on.
“I am challenging any engineer to justify, for example, the quantity on the hinterland roads. It is most times too low. It is difficult to make checks in the hinterlands. When the rains come, it is washed away. They blame it on the rains.”
Lewis claimed that one of the most common ways to fix contracts is to inflate the amount of materials…especially sand.
“I even had people coming to me and ask me to do work on projects that were not even tendered yet. That is how bad the situation is. People know in advance they getting work.”
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