The new Demerara Harbour Bridge

In the midst of swirling political intrigues, the latest news on the new proposed Demerara Harbour Bridge (NDHB) appears to have passed under the radar of most citizens.
Last Tuesday, the National Procurement and Tender Administration Board (NPTAB) announced that 11 companies had submitted tenders to “prequalify” for the financing, designing, and construction of the NDHB.
This “prequalification” process had been severely criticised by the governing APNU and AFC parties when they were in the opposition, when it was used in the procurement of pharmaceuticals for the Ministry of Health and the GHPC, even though it had been designed with the input of the World Bank (WB) and the World Health Organisation (WHO).
This module is used to winnow out bidders that may not be in a position to be serious contenders to deliver the goods or services sought. Screening of potential contractors, suppliers, or vendors would be scrutinised in general on the basis of factors such as experience, financial ability, managerial ability, reputation, work history, etc. to develop a list of qualified bidders who would receive the invitation-to-bid (ITB) documents.
For instance, the NY Department of Transportation insists that to get on the prequalified list for the Design of a Large Bridge – in excess of $40 million in construction cost – a firm must satisfy the following criteria:
“A minimum of 60 full time technical employees must be employed at regional offices. At least eight professional Engineers on staff full time with at least eight years’ experience, who have successfully completed a bridge design project within the last five years. A minimum of 15 full-time Bridge Design Engineers must be employed at regional offices. The firm must have successfully completed three “Large” Bridge Design Projects, as the Prime Consultant, within the last five years at regional offices.
Over the previous three years, the attrition rate of the technical employees of the firm must not exceed an average of 10% annually. The firm must have an available line of credit in excess of $1,000,000, or equivalent that must be verified by an officer of the lending institution in writing. The most recent 12 month billings cannot be less than 75% of the average of the last 5 years’ billings.”
Yet, in the present NDHB project, there was no prequalification process, not even for the feasibility study. LIEVENSE CSO, the firm that was handed the contract via the even more heavily criticised “sole sourcing” method, estimated the new bridge to cost US$170 million. But maybe it is a case of better late than never; and possibly, now that the prequalification process is being used for the NDHB, maybe the Government may once again utilise it in other large contracts such as a pharmaceutical supply.
But, very sadly, the Government has not announced the criteria that will be utilised to determine which of the eleven companies applying to be prequalified for the financing, designing and construction of the NDHB. At the announcement last Tuesday, the Minister of Public Infrastructure referred to all eleven of the applicants as “prequalified”. He confirmed the Government would proceed with its previous announcement to arbitrarily choose three of the applicants to submit bids. The Minister admitted the process might be “unfair”, and insistences that “only the absolutely best company” would be selected rang hollow in the face of a lack of objectively stated criteria.
From all indications, the Government appears to be using the NDHB as what the Americans call a “pork barrel” project to garners vote for the 2020 elections from the groups that would presumably benefit. However, the Government has still not addressed concerns that the three-lane bridge with a retractable span would still present disruptions to commuters.
The Minister insisted that even though no money has been allocated in the 2018 budget for the extensive roadwork that would have to be undertaken by the Government in the proposed Public-Private Partnership Agreement, the project would commwnce in the third quarter of that year.