Investigations by Auditor General Deodat Sharma and his staff at the Audit Office has revealed that a Government engineer falsely certified that works were completed on a contract, more than five months before they were actually completed.
This is contained in the 2018 Audit Report of Guyana, which was seen by this publication. According to the report, the contract was overseen by the Public Security Ministry and was for the renovation of a self-acting sluice at Western Section, Lusignan.
“Amounts totalling $151.300 million were allocated for repairs and maintenance works within the Ministry. According to the Appropriation Accounts, as at December 31, 2018, amounts totalling $113.464 million were expended. A sample of nine projects with contract sums totalling $38.581 million for maintenance works were selected for physical verification,” the Audit Office explained in the report.
The particular contract in which discrepancies were found was supposed to be executed within two months and have a defects liability period of three months. It was awarded by the Ministerial Tender Board to the contractor, who was the lowest bidder of the 16 who vied for the contract.
It is understood that the engineer’s estimate for the works was $5.7 million, with the contract being signed on December 5, 2018, and amounts totalling $4.5 million being paid to the contractor in that same month.
“However,” the Audit Office noted in its report, “It was discovered that the engineer certified that the works were completed since 16 December 2018, however, our physical verification on May 3, 2019, revealed that the contractor was still on-site effecting works to the structure.”
“As such, the engineer falsely certified that the works were completed since December 2018,” the Audit Office wrote, going on to add that a “physical inspection of the concrete works to the structure revealed shoddy works, with honeycombing of the concrete and pieces of cement bags casted into the finished structure.”
In its defence of these findings, the Ministry disputed the timing for payments to the contractor. According to the Ministry, the contractor was paid after the works on the project were completed. Moreover, the Ministry explained that all remedial works have since been completed.
“The Audit Office recommends that the Head of Budget Agency must immediately desist from certifying and processing payments for incomplete works and improve in the supervision of works and should not make payments for unacceptable works that do not meet the specifications,” the report states in response.
In-house engineers play crucial roles, as policymakers often depend on reports submitted by them to make policy decisions or to authorise payments to contractors. These engineers are supposed to be the technical eyes and ears for the Ministry when projects are being executed.
Overpayments on contracts, whereby payments are made but works not completed on schedule, has been a common theme in the Auditor General’s reports over the past few years. It is also an issue often dealt with at the level of the Parliamentary Public Accounts Committee (PAC).
For 2018, the Audit Report had documented that out of a total of $166 million in overpayments, various Ministries and departments overpaid contractors as much as $92.3 million for the 2018 fiscal year.
The Public Infrastructure Ministry, according to the report, accounted for a large chunk by overpaying $63.7 million for that fiscal year. On the other hand, $73.7 million was overpaid by regional administrations. Regions Two, Eight, Nine and 10 were responsible for 70 per cent of this sum.