Jul 28, 2021 News
Kaieteur News – The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) on Monday highlighted the issue of payments to contractors for works that were not yet complete.
The issue came up as part of discussions in relation to the Auditor General’s (AG) Report for the year 2016. Under the Ministry of Education (MoE), the AG’s report outlined a number of discrepancies as it relates to the payment system for contractors and pointed specifically to an instance where a contractor was paid in full seven months before the completion of the contract.
The meeting focused on that instance where the National Procurement & Tender Administration (NPTA) granted approval for the award of a contract in the sum of $6.151M for the repairs and maintenance at the MoE’s Book Distribution Unit.
According to the report, the physical verification of the project revealed that the works were not yet completed and overpayments totalling $354,300 was made to the contractor.
Another instance was highlighted in which the NPTA granted approval for the award of a contract in the sum of $9.003M for repair and maintenance works to the Book Distribution Unit but the physical verification of the project revealed that overpayments totalling $155,500 was made to the contractor.
During the session, several questions were posed to a panel of MoE representatives led by the Ministry’s Permanent Secretary (PS), Alfred King, by Opposition PAC member, Ganesh Mahipaul, and Minister of Governance and Parliamentary Affairs, Gail Teixeira.
King sought to tell the committee that the issue was already resolved, that there was a misunderstanding of the scope of works of the project. The PS asserted that in his estimation since the works were completed, “technically there was no overpayment.”
However members of the PAC including Mahipaul and Teixeira emphasised that although the works were complete, the issue highlights “a serious breach of the procurement regulations.”
Mahipaul pointed out that the works were only completed after it was pointed out by the AG that the contractor did not finish the job.
Mahipaul said therefore that the technical persons must have some culpability for the overpayment.
“My understanding is that the engineering department would have to certify that all the works were done before the final cheque could have been paid to the contractor. The works that was specified in the bill of quantities would have been completed … but clearly this is not how it was done here. The fact that the entire contract sum was paid to the contractor in 2016 indicates that the engineering department did what they were supposed to do in terms of certifying the work that would have caused this money to be paid in full… The problem arose after the Auditor General’s Department visited the project and picked up that there was an overpayment for work that was not done,” Mahipaul explained.
“My question now is, is this a case, PS, where the engineering department falsified information in terms of certification of the work and preparing the document to say that everything was done as was required?” he enquired.
In response to the queries, King noted that he did do some verification and received photos of the completed works but he could not recall whether it was done in 2016 or 2018.
It was subsequently clarified that the payments were made before the work was finished. The work was paid for in full in 2016 but the works were completed after the AG’s team visited the project. Teixeira stressed on seriousness of the breach of the procurement laws.
“This is a breach of the procurement laws, we are not allowed to do that. The contract sum was paid and the works were not finished until seven months later … there must be a resolve to these issues…”
Meanwhile, in his remarks, PAC member and Public Works Minister, Juan Edghill, noted that the issue is one which reoccurs year-after- year and is highlighted by the Auditor General and the PAC.
Edghill noted that at several previous sittings of the PAC instances are highlighted where sums of money over the standard or required amount are paid to the contractor, and the works are still not completed.
“This certainly is unacceptable. And while taxpayers have used different forums to complain previously, the relevant agencies have a duty to ensure that public money is well spent and accounted for,” he said.
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