The Bitumen (Asphalt) Plant, purchased and installed at a total cost of $169 million in July of 2009 was transferred to the Demarara Harbour Bridge (DHB) Corporation after operations ceased in July 2013.
This transfer was effected on August 1, 2013 from under the purview of the Transport and Harbours Department (T&HD). However, the plant still remains at its original Garden of Eden, East Bank Demarara location. Public Works Minister Robeson Benn, in a written response to questions asked by APNU MP Annette Ferguson in Parliament on Thursday last, said the operations of the plant had ceased because of a lack of competent and experienced personnel within the T&HD to manage the plant.
According to a letter dated October 2009 and written by then acting permanent secretary in the Ministry of Public Works Leslie Wilburg, the plant was sourced from India after considerable discussions were held with national personnel and was purchased from Vinayak Road Equipment. Addressing concerns about its ability to function, Wilburg wrote, “Notwithstanding the frequency difference of 50HZ/60HZ in terms of the equipment/utility supply, respectively, it was confirmed in writing by the supplier (Vinayak Road Equipment) that the system design allows for the plant’s safe and sustainable operation within the current frequency limits. This is also the view of the Ministry of Public Works and Communication’s experts and it is apt to note that the 50/60 HZ configuration allows for the removal and set up of the plant on a generator for large out of town projects where a main supply is unavailable.”
The plant was bought to boost the asphalt production capacity of the T&HD since the 35-year-old plant it had at the time had experienced consistent downtime which stymied production.
Ferguson had questioned the expenditure of $65.6 million on bitumen. However, in his response, Benn wrote that bitumen was not purchased. He explained that the sum represented $37.1 million paid by the Public Works Ministry and $28.4 million paid by six contractors to the T&HD for asphaltic concrete. This was never honoured, he said and the money was subsequently refunded to the ministry and the contractors.
Meanwhile, the current state and future of the asphalt plant is unknown as efforts to contact Benn and DHB General Manager Rawlston Adams proved futile.