Monitoring public projects

At is unbelievable the quality of work that is being carried out by some contractors engaged in public infrastructure projects; most of which cost the treasury millions of dollars. All around the country one can point to numerous examples of substandard work for which contractors were paid huge sums; in fact, in some cases they were even overpaid.

In many cases very little action is taken against these errant contractors for not meeting their contractual obligations, resulting in them walking scotch free. In fact, some persons would even be shocked to learn that these same persons who have done poor work or left work incomplete were awarded additional contracts.

Year after year, in his report, the Auditor General would highlight a number examples of substandard or incomplete work in construction projects across the country – whether they be schools, hospitals, roads, bridges etc. His most recent (2015) report was no different. In that report the AG pointed to some instances where road projects were incomplete, or left abandoned even though contractors were already paid huge sums to do a proper job. Many have asked what actions are being taken against these contractors to recoup these monies, or what sort of systems have been put in place to ensure these contracting firms are debarred from bidding for future projects.

Also, at a recent engagement between the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) and regional officials to address several irregularities which were cited in the Auditor General’s 2015 Report, PAC Chairman, Irfaan Ali once again brought the said issue to fore. Like many others, he lamented the fact that very little is being done to ensure contractors honour their obligations to the State.

It was also pointed out at that meeting that in the past, sums of money were overpaid to contractors in mobilization fees – which is a fraction of the contractual cost that is paid to the contractor to get his/her equipment to the site where the project is to be implemented. In some cases, 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 tax payers have used different forums to complain previously, the relevant agencies have a duty to ensure that public monies are well spent and accounted for.

From what is gathered, there are several lapses in the national procurement system from time to time which need to be corrected urgently. For example, it is clear that there are poor monitoring and reporting mechanisms in place to ensure contracting firms carry out works as per contractual agreement. Also, there seems to be no strict policy to penalize and/or debar contractors for failing to meet their contractual obligations.

The Ministry of Public Infrastructure had said that it is in the process of establishing a database which will keep a track record of the number of projects awarded to local contractors and their performance with respect to each. It would also be helpful if procuring entities keep a proper record of the performance of companies with regard to projects awarded. This could be used as an effective measure to better inform the process for selecting competent contractors to handle government projects.

Now that the Public Procurement Commission (PPC) has been established, one would hope that the relevant mechanisms are put in place with the aim of ensuring these lapses are corrected. To begin with the PPC would need to examine and implement effective measures for blacklisting, so that contractors who are consistently delinquent could face the requisite level of debarment. A contractor found to have a record of producing poor and incomplete work cannot and should not be awarded additional contracts.

That said, citizens also have a role to play in ensuring that they get value for money. They should also be provide the relevant feedback to the respective authorities in relation to how certain projects are progressing in their communities.