$488M asphalt plant built by APNU/AFC non-functional
Almost 2 years later
Almost two years after the former A Partnership for National Unity/Alliance For Change (APNU/AFC) Government spent a whopping $488 million to procure parts for and then construct a modern asphalt plant, the plant is still non-operational.
In an exclusive interview with this publication, Public Works Minister Juan Edghill revealed that when the People’s Progressive Party (PPP) entered office in August, it was to find that the Eco 2000 Batch mix asphalt plant was non-functional.
He noted that as per the last update on the project, the asphalt plant remains non-functional and the State is unable to get value for the monies it spent on the project, bringing in parts from Germany and then assembling it.
“It is (non-operational). They’re waiting on some expert to come in with some part, to make it operational. And the excuse was COVID prevented that from happening. I don’t have an update that anything has changed. Over $400 million,” the Minister said.
When parts for the asphalt plant were first brought in back in 2019, it was hailed as “the most modern” asphalt plant in the region. The parts, along with an installation crew, were supposed to come from Germany for the assembly at the Demerara Harbour Bridge Corporation (DHBC), Garden of Eden branch, East Bank Demerara.
It was expected to reduce costs in the construction of asphalt concrete roads in the near future. Once assembled, this plant would have been the largest in the country – capable of supplying the local needs of the Ministry in the execution of road construction and rehabilitation, without compromising quality or price.
The new asphalt plant was procured through public tender during 2018 by the DHBC and was supposed to have the power and capability to produce approximately 160 tonnes of asphalt per hour – almost four times faster than the current asphalt plant, while also using recyclable materials like plastic bags and bottles, as well as tires.
Further, the new plant was also expected to meet all required environmental standards regarding air and noise emissions, which would have been certified by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
But that was in July 2019. The plant was still not completed by June 2020 and when asked about it by sections of the media, General Manager of the DHBC Rawlston Adams had cited the COVID-19 pandemic at the time for causing the delays.
“We’ve had one electrical component that wasn’t a part of the original shipment and that delayed the commissioning. We have it in place, the company has shipped it, we have already cleared it, and it’s there ready to install. COVID-19 is causing a delay in that part being put in, however, because the German technicians had to go back to Germany, and once the airports are reopened the team will make their way back here, and we do the testing and the commissioning,” Adams was quoted as saying.
While this asphalt plant remains non-functional, controversy surrounds the original asphalt plant. Soon after the PPP took office, reports emerged that contractors working on Government projects were mandated to take their asphalt from the Garden of Eden plant and would get huge discounts under a scam that stretched all the way to the former Ministry of Public Infrastructure.
According to the report, persons from the Ministry would order a certain amount of asphalt from the plant to be billed to the Ministry. However, they would collect less than what was ordered, and the difference was sold at discounted prices to contractors. This would result in significant losses in revenue as well as contractors benefiting from the racket being at an unfair advantage over other contractors.
The Government ordered a probe into the asphalt plant racket, which, among other damning findings, confirmed that asphalt was being given on credit to major companies, some with their own asphalt plants and thus, in competition with the DHBC. Additionally, the probe found that the asphalt plant paid more than $9.8 million to a non-existent Trinidadian company back in 2015 – one year before the company was incorporated. These were among a series of discrepancies unearthed during an investigation into allegations of a major racket at the asphalt plant dating back several years.