Lawrence grilled on $150M new head office, lab for GA-FDD
As the consideration of the 2019 Budget Estimates continued on Thursday, Public Health Minister Volda Lawrence was grilled by the parliamentary Opposition on the construction of a new head office for her Ministry, as well as for the construction of a state-of-the-art laboratory for the Government Analysis-Food and Drug Department (GA-FDD).
Under the Ministry’s Policy Development and Administration programme, there was an allocation of $438.9 million for “provision for buildings” under Capital Expenditures and according to Minister Lawrence, some $150 million of this
amount has been allocated to the construction of the new head office for the Public Health Ministry. She explained that the project, which cost a total of $365.487 million, is being carried out in phases and is currently in the first phase.
Opposition parliamentarian, Dr Frank Anthony pointed out that this is a multi-year project and funds were also allocated in the 2018 Budget as such, he enquired about the cost of each phase.
However, the Minister said they do not have the “costing for the other two phases”.
At this point, Dr Anthony asked about the design and engineer’s estimate. “I would imagine that a Ministry steep in planning would be able to [provide cost of each phases] and more so, that they have phased the construction. Can the Minister please explain to us about the design and the overall cost? If there isn’t an engineer’s estimate, what are we doing in phase one?”
In response, Lawrence reiterated that the cost for the other two phases of the project is not available. But she did note, however, that works will commence in 2019 for the design of the second phase.
The 2017 Auditor General’s report had reported that the $365 million contract was awarded to the lowest of the eight bidders, against the engineer’s estimate of $546.751 million. However, the Auditor Generak had flagged that despite an advance payment of $71.365 million, the construction of the Ministry’s new head office was at a standstill almost one year after the contract was signed.
Meanwhile, Dr Anthony continued grilling the Public Health Minister, questioning
her about the construction of the Food and Drug Lab. According to Minister Lawrence, of the allocated $438.9 million, some $210 million will be injected into this project, which will kick off next year.
“This is very first time, we the citizens of Guyana, will be building a state-of-the-art laboratory. As a result, we sought to engage persons with the technical knowledge and persons with the experience that would have built such a facility. In 2019, we are going out for tender and according to our plan, by end of first half of 2019 we should be breaking ground to start to put that building,” she stated.
Again, however, the Opposition MP pointed out that monies were allocated for this project in 2018. To this end, the Public Health Minister went on to detail that during last year works including: site preparation were completed; a temporary bridge; land clearing and grubbing of building footprint and construction of retaining wall on eastern end of compound were all done to the tune of $69.4 million. She added too that $8 million was expended for the construction of temporary perimeter fence around the construction site and a geo-technical investigation was completed for $2.9 million.
Based on requests from the Opposition parliamentarian, the Minister further disclosed that $20 million each was paid for consultancy services for both the construction of the laboratory as well as for the Ministry’s head office.
Lawrence further explained that the design for the new head office building, which is located on Brickdam, commenced in house but they later sought the services of an external consultant – Vicab Guyana Limited – at the cost of $5 million. Meanwhile, she noted that another $12.5 million was expended on consultancy services for the Food and Drug Lab, which was awarded to Jamaican company, William Harris TTSL.
According to the Public Health Minister, while the design for the laboratory is completed, the one for the Ministry’s head office is now undergoing some corrections.
Juan Edghill, a second-bencher on the Opposition’s side, enquired whether if at the time of the contract signing for phase one of works on the new head officer, the contractor was given a design to work along with. The Minister responded in the affirmative but noted that corrections had to be made.
Nevertheless, following the consideration of the estimates for the other programmes under the Public Health Ministry, the Committee of Supply on Thursday evening approved the budgeted sum allocated for the Ministry.