By Leonard Gildarie
On Friday, President Irfaan Ali announced a review of the country’s civil works contracts.
A statement from the Office of the President made it clear that the actions were to address poor performance, sub-standard work and delays of the contracts.
According to the President: “I have reviewed many projects where basic elements of project management, like the upkeep of project ledgers, minutes and notes guiding discussions are missing or deliberately not taken, so as to avoid scrutiny. I have therefore asked the AG (Attorney General) to review terms and conditions of existing civil works contracts, to tighten the provisions of those contacts. Such reviews must also ensure project managers, consultants and supervisors are also held responsible in the execution of those projects. Special emphasis must be placed on retention periods to ensure defects are corrected before projects are handed over.”
President Ali noted too, that while efforts are being made to strengthen and build local capacity, quality and value for money will not be sacrificed.
In fact, the President insisted that in every community where projects are executed, the Neighbourhood Democratic Councils (NDCs) should have a copy of the bill of quantities and scope of work. In addition, copies of those documents should be publicly displayed at a central location in the communities itself, to enhance participation and oversight.
He went further: “Contractors, supervisors, and project units must be held accountable so as to avoid pitfalls in contract delivery and value. The regional systems will also be strengthened to enhance their oversight responsibility,” President Ali stated. “The Government has maintained that all measures will be taken to ensure that there is transparency and accountability in the interest of the public good.”
The statements of Ali in recent days on government projects and contracts are more than heartening. For years now, Guyana stood by idly and watched as one after another contractor ran rings around the government. Billions of dollars in kickbacks and leakages.
It is no secret which minister would be in somebody’s pockets. The rum shops and bars were good place to glean information.
The result is that Guyana received so many sub-standard and delayed projects that we can only shake our heads in shame.
A man told me Friday that poor people get jail time for a few ounces of marijuana while the rich, who stole billions, walk free.
Those statements on Friday by the Office of the President would come after the President turned up at the Cheddi Jagan International Airport (CJIA) last Monday, where the US$150M expansion project has been dragging along for over a decade.
From reports, the president would have hit the roof after being briefed by officials.
Can we not be angry at the delays and drastically reduced scope of works?
There can be no excuses. The Chinese contractor, China Harbour Engineering Company (CHEC), has been here since 2011, snagging two major private sector projects under its belt…the Movietowne one and the expansion of the Pegasus Hotel. Movietowne is completed while the Pegasus is steaming to an inevitable completion.
Meanwhile, Guyana, as the client/customer remains disrespected. There can be no other explanation. How is it that a fixed-price contract, as acknowledged by the President, can be adjusted? How is the scope of works reduced by more than half for the terminal building and instead of a new one, we have a renovated/refurbished one?
The president announced an investigation into the airport project.
It is very clear that our supervision of state projects has been a disaster in many cases.
The President, himself a past manager of projects, would have pointed out that record keeping and other reports were missing on a number of projects reviewed.
It is incomprehensible that our engineers, supervisors and other stakeholders would not keep records on State projects. It is incomprehensible that they are unaware of the rules.
The President is right…maybe the trail was clouded deliberately to reduce blame on the guilty parties and to hide wrongdoings.
The timing of Ali’s attention of State projects and how they are managed is something that Guyana has been crying for a long time now.
For years now, ministries and State agencies ran projects like when it belonged to them and it is something from their home they are doing.
Guyana must get value for its dollars.
There is another aspect to contemplate. We sign contracts with contractors, supervisors and spent hours and days and weeks in preparing for the projects. There is a verifiable paper trail up to the point in accessing financing.
The adherence to contract terms and conditions must be paramount. That is the gold standard.
As a people who are struggling to make ends meet, the wastage/corruption on the CJIA project is just too unbelievable.
We will be watching how the administration handle this new dispensation of little tolerance for mismanagement and wastage of our resources.
At the end of the day, we all have to repay the loans. The money could have been placed elsewhere…for example, in getting help for our vulnerable.
(The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of this newspaper.)
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