Over the past five months or so, the Peoples Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) Administration has discovered that it has inherited a governmental infrastructure that its Attorney General refers to as a “rotting and has decayed” system.
These comments by AG Anil Nandlall, SC, come as no surprise. Over the years under the APNU/AFC, the quality of work that was carried out by some contractors engaged in public infrastructure projects was unbelievable; and most of those works had 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 was taken by the APNU/AFC Administration against those errant contractors for not meeting their contractual obligations, resulting in them walking scot 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, the Auditor General would highlight numerous examples of substandard or incomplete work in construction projects across the country – whether they be schools, hospitals, roads, bridges etc.
The Auditor General pointed, on more than one occasion, to instances wherein projects were incomplete or left abandoned, even though contractors were already paid huge sums to do a proper job. Many had asked what actions were being taken against these contractors by the then APNU/AFC Government to recoup those sums of money, or what sort of systems had been put in place to ensure those contracting firms were debarred from bidding for future projects.
At several past sittings of the then Public Accounts Committee (PAC) and regional officials, to address several irregularities, it was pointed out that sums of money were overpaid to contractors in mobilisation 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 were paid to the contractor and the works were still not completed.
This certainly is unacceptable. And while tax payers had previously used different forums to complain, the relevant agencies had a duty to ensure that public monies were well spent and properly accounted for.
From what is gathered, there were several lapses in the national procurement system under the APNU/AFC Administration, which this new Government has assiduously been trying to correct urgently. For example, it is clear that there were poor monitoring and reporting mechanisms in place to ensure contracting firms carry out works as per contractual agreement. Also, there seemed to have been no strict policy to penalise and/or debar contractors for failing to meet their contractual obligations.
Prior to demitting office, the then Public Infrastructure Ministry, which is now the Public Works Ministry, had said it was in the process of establishing a database which would keep a track record of the number of projects awarded to local contractors, and their performance in respect to each. It would also be helpful if procuring entities keep proper records 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.
One had hoped that the relevant mechanisms would have been put in place with the aim of ensuring those lapses are corrected. The Public Works Ministry, under its new leadership, now needs to re-examine and implement effective measures to keep those contractors accountable, 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. Such strict enforcement is needed to curb the unacceptable trend of substandard work.