Sep 21, 2020 News
– $214 million advanced to BK International for Yarrowkabra Secondary
– $60 million advanced to Courtney Benn for St. Rose’s High
By Mikaila Prince
Years have passed, and despite contractors receiving millions in advanced payments for the construction of several schools, they remain incomplete with their work continuing to move at a snail’s pace. The Minister of Education, Priya Manickchand on Friday lambasted the previous APNU+AFC for mismanaging the construction of these schools, while promising that such blundering will not occur under the new administration of the People’s Progressive Party/ Civic (PPP/C).
Minister Manickchand reminded the House that before the PPP/C had demitted office in 2015, the party had secured a $10B loan from the World Bank, aimed at constructing secondary schools in key villages, namely Golden Grove, Yarrowkabra, and Plaisance.
The Education Minister first spoke of the Golden Grove Secondary School, the contract for which was signed on October 1, 2018, and the completion expected for January, 2020. What is concerning, however, is that within the two years that this contract has been awarded and despite the allocated contractual time on the project expiring, only 74% of the school’s construction has been completed.
“The school is not ready,” Manickchand told the House. “The school is not up. A whole generation of children has passed through the system and continues to go to schools that are not appropriate.”
Attention was then turned to the contentious $827M Yarrowkabra Secondary School on the Soesdyke Highway. This contract was awarded on December 31, 2019 when the coalition was deemed to be in a caretaker mode by the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ). Nonetheless, the Education Ministry under the APNU+AFC had signed the multi-million contract with the contractor, BK International Incorporated on January 7, 2020.
Some $214M has already been advanced to BK International, but a mere 3.5% of the works have completed, the Minister said, as she added that at this time, the contractor should have completed at least 8% of the works.
“The APNU/AFC inherited.” Manickchand said, “The money from us to build. They get the money from us. They get the drawing from us. They get the project manager from us and they couldn’t finish it. We are saying to the people of these communities, that we will finish these schools. We will finish them because we understand how important it is for your children to receive a world-class education, how important it is for them to have comfort and to have a building that they can attend to.”
Attention was then turned to the construction of the St. Rose’s High School, which was awarded to Courtney Benn Contracting Services in August of 2018. Two years have passed, with the contractor receiving a $60M advance from the government, but to date, only 8% of the works have been completed.
Raising further concern is the issue of the contractor abandoning the $352M contract. According to the school’s Board’s of Governors (BoG), the contractor was tasked with installing approximately 220 timber piles in late in 2019, which was completed in January of this year. However, just after that pile driving exercise, the Board had observed that the contractor had removed all of their construction pile driving and other equipment, remaining piles and all construction personnel from the site.
“It is an indication to the Board that the site has been seemingly abandoned by the contractor,” the Board wrote in a statement on September 8, while noting that no explanations were given to them by the contractor for their abandonment.
Kaieteur News had confirmed the contractor’s evacuation of the site during a visit to the Church Street site on September 3. There, this publication was greeted with bushes, discarded pieces of logs and no personnel, not even a security guard. The only heavy-duty equipment on site was an unmanned Bobcat machine.
Alarmingly, the issues with the contractor did not stop there. As the variation process of pile installation unfolded, the Board had written that it had observed that the contractor, in “a peculiar move”, refused to make their work plan public. In fact, the contractor had also refused to share their work plan with the School Board, despite numerous formal attempts made to do so.
“Further the contractor,” the Board wrote in their statement, “sought to prevent the contracting entity (the Ministry of Education) from holding regular stakeholder consultation update meetings with the Board or any other stakeholders, which is vital for a project of this nature, size and complexity, as it allows for smooth execution of works, while keeping all informed of the issues and concerns arising from construction.”
It should be noted that in late 2019, the Auditor General (AG), Deodat Sharma, had advised the APNU+AFC regime to terminate the multi-million dollar contract and to recover whatever monies were advanced. This advice was issued after the AG recorded that little to no work had begun on the construction site, even after a year had passed.
Minister Manickchand maintained that such mismanagement and slothfulness is “indefensible”, as she asserted that, “It is unacceptable and together we must say to contractors that you cannot give us service like this. Our children deserve better! I’m sounding a warning now to contractors who will work with us that we are not going to tolerate this sloth and neglect on the projects that this Government has.”
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