Hope Canal sluice gates contract yanked from Courtney Benn

The contract for the fabrication, delivery and installation of gates for the Hope Canal sluice has been yanked from Courtney Benn Contracting Services Limited (CBCSL) and awarded to another company.

This aspect of the controversial $3.6 billion Hope Canal Project (HCP) is the one farthest behind schedule with the project having been hit by delays and several deadlines being missed. In mid-April, Agriculture Minister Dr. Leslie Ramsammy told Stabroek News that CBCSL was being given time to complete the project. “I would wish that it could be done, but it is not going to be done before June period,” he had said. Up to that point, he had told Stabroek News that three of the four components of the project were completed with only the eight-gate sluice by CBCSL still to be finished.

Last week, Ramsammy told Stabroek News that Cabinet approved $44.4 million for the fabrication and delivery of the gates for the Hope Canal sluice. He said that the contract was taken from CBCSL and a subcontract awarded to another firm for the installation of the gates. The minister explained that the amount under the CBCSL contact was removed and the procurement and installation of the eight steel gates sluice was then retendered. The minister could not say offhand which company was awarded the subcontract.

He told Stabroek News that since last year it was decided that there would be a retendering process for the eight-gate sluice. He stated that this was always the plan since the material was switched from being a wooden gate to being a steel construction.

Work on the canal commenced in February 2011. Contractors however, due to myriad setbacks, were unable to complete the project within the stipulated 18-month contractual time-frame and so several extensions were granted. The deadline was revised again in January when the December 31, 2013 deadline passed. CBCSL was advised in the last quarter of 2013 to hire additional workers or to subcontract the work so it would not miss the December 2013 deadline.

Engineer Charles Sohan has been very critical of the HCP stating that the project would most likely take an additional year to complete.

One of his biggest concern was that the eight radial SS gates were unlikely to be fabricated, installed and become functional this year.

“Substantial complex work remains to be done on that segment of the canal between the crown and conservancy dams to make the pegasse soil comprising its embankments watertight and stable as they were not constructed with selected fill as should have been the case,” Sohan added. He had noted that the abutment would have to be tied to existing sea defences and that contracts for these extra works were yet to be awarded.

“As could be deduced from the foregoing, and apart from contract work, substantial extra works remain to be done to make HCP functional and this will take over a year to accomplish. Minister Ramsammy seems to lack the expertise to assess a complicated project which was dreamt up and passed over to him in a chaotic state by his predecessor and whose final cost and eventual completion date continues to elude him as he artfully uses his political skills to mislead the Guyanese people by issuing unrealistic completion dates one after the other with impunity. When all is said and done, he should be held responsible for the large cost and time overrun on HCP which he continues to defend, and which will eventually cost the Guyanese taxpayers dearly,” Sohan asserted.

Sohan had said that lax project oversight by the National Drainage & Irrigation Authority (NDIA) has prevented timelines from being adhered to. He stated that the final cost of the project was yet to be determined, but with constant delays more money was likely being spent.

The engineer stated that NDIA’s claims that the HCP will prevent flooding in the Mahaica, Mahaicony, Abary, Hope areas is un-substantiated. Ramsammy told Stabroek News that the various criticisms from Sohan have not been correct. However, he did not provide any data.

The 2014 budget has allocated an additional $878 million for the completion of the HCP as well as for the acquisition of eight fixed drainage pumps, technical support, training and spares. The breakdown of how much will be going where was not given.

The Hope Canal was conceptualized after the 2005 flood. The inability of the various outlets of the EDWC to get rid of accumulating water fast enough led to massive flooding. This new addition is expected to enable government to regulate the water in the EDWC more efficiently.

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