Region Nine tender procedures a sham, officials say

– chairman promises to ‘take note’
Lawful procurement methods are not being followed in Region Nine, according to sources in the regional administration with knowledge of the situation.

Several officials detailed to this newspaper recently incidents in which the awarding of contracts, among other issues, was not done in keeping with proper procedures. They said the process lacked transparency and accountability and in some instances there was even falsification of documents. The officials, who spoke on condition of anony-mity so as not to jeopardize their jobs, also said that select contractors were awarded jobs and sometimes the work was not properly done. They also said that wrong specifications of items paid for were supplied.

The Chairman of the region’s tendering process is Regional Executive Officer (REO) Donald Gajraj and several attempts to contact him over the past few days proved futile. Each time Stabroek News called, his secretary said he was out of office and on Friday she gave a reporter the number for the Regional Chairman.

When contacted, in a brief telephone interview, Regional Chairman Clarindo Lucas said he was prepared to “take note” of the issues. However, he said he would prefer that this newspaper interviewed Gajraj since he was the head of the region’s tender board. When provided with details of some of the projects, Lucas said it was the first time he was hearing of the issues. “I’m going to take note, but I don’t understand. I’m at the location and the person go and tell you?”

The sources said in one instance, work was done to upgrade roads in Kumu and St Ignatius and it was only after the work had been completed and paid for, that the project went through the tendering procedure and contracts were signed.  They also pointed to roads which were not done properly and washed away during the rainy season.

The officials told Stabroek News that the Chairman and the members of Regional Tender Board were appointed by the National Procurement and Tender Administration Board (NPTAB). Evaluators are supposed to be appointed by the same body but this did not happen last year or this year, the officials said. What happens now, they said, is that the evaluators are chosen by Gajraj, and do not always have the qualifications.

Recently, Stabroek News was told, District Develop-ment Officers had been called to evaluate projects when they were not officially designated to do such work and at one time a physiotherapist was asked to do the same.
Asked about this, Lucas said that the region did not choose evaluators. He said names were proposed and they were sanctioned by the NPTAB. When quizzed on persons who were not qualified being appointed as evaluators, he questioned “who is better to know” the requirements of the work. He asked whether an engineer in the city would know what is happening in the region and said a senior agricultural officer in the region would know what is happening in his sector. He lamented that persons would “actually entertain the degrading of local persons.”

Meantime, this newspaper’s sources said that the Regional Tender Board is also without technical personnel. They said also that at a recent Regional Democratic Council meeting, there was barely a quorum with only six out of 15 persons turning up. Because of Gajraj’s attitude, officials had begun staying away from meetings, they said.

And contractors had been affected too. One contractor, detailing a recent experience, said he saw a notice inviting bids for a project. He explained that National Insurance Scheme and Guyana Revenue Authority compliances expired at the end of the quarter and given the deadline, it was not possible for any person to have had valid documents at the time. He said he knew the requirements and was aware that once these were not met, the bidder was disqualified.

According to the contractor, he called Gajraj and pointed this out to him and was told he would be wasting his time if he placed a bid. “So I figured what goes for one goes for all,” said the contractor, adding that he did not place a bid. However, he said, he later learnt that the tendering process went ahead and Gajraj granted a further 12 days for the bidders to get their documents in order. The contractor said that if the procedure had been adhered to none of the bids would have been valid. He said that many contractors had been affected in some way or the other, but were not willing to come forward because they were afraid of not getting other jobs.

Stabroek News was told about persons who had been awarded contracts and had not been paid for months. In once instance, two years after completing some work for the region, a contractor had not been paid even though money had been sent last year. One official additionally described the prequalification of contractors in the region as a “sham.”

Meantime regarding projects, Stabroek News was told about an incinerator built at Bon Success, close to Lethem for close to $1 million. It was built last year and has never been used. The incinerator was supposed to have been built in the Lethem Hospital compound, but because many persons lived in the vicinity, the new site was chosen. However, this newspaper was told that when personnel from the Guyana Safe Injections Programme (GSIP) visited, concerns had been expressed about it. They said the placement was wrong and the mesh used was not appropriate. The mesh openings were too large, according to the GSIP officials. Quizzed on this, Lucas said that project was not a regional one but from central government.

And in 2008, a high-level official said, money had been allocated to purchase a new tractor but a second-hand tractor had been purchased instead. He said it had been kept without being used until it was handed over to the National Agricultural Research Institute (NARI) earlier this year.

In that year, also, he said, the RDC had paid for an eight-metre boat but a seven-metre vessel had been supplied instead. Asked about this, Lucas said that these were questions for the tender board and not him. “As far as I am concerned boats were supplied and people are using them,” he said, adding that in the past people used canoes and he himself paddled a canoe and now communities were using aluminium boats. When it was pointed out to him that it was the wrong size boat that had been supplied, he said he did not try to go and measure everything. “Whoever the person is (who) measure it, they suppose to come and let me know… Only you calling me from Georgetown instead of a local person coming to me?”

In this newspaper’s brief interview with him, Lucas asked for more details but when asked specifically whether he would investigate, he said “I have to take note of it.” He could not say more because he said he was about to start a meeting and promised to contact the reporter later. He said it was the first time he was hearing of the matters.

Meantime, this newspaper was told about a windmill that had been purchased for a community but never handed over and had been in storage for quite a while and was “slowly being taken away for spares.” Earlier this year, staff at the Aishalton Hospital in the Deep South Rupununi had complained that it was difficult to source even simple items like buckets from the regional administration, and the officials said there were several items in storage that had been allocated for last year but remained there.

According to them, Gajraj “want everything under his control,” and “if you is the yes type of person, he likes you. If not he does not. If you know it’s wrong and you still want to tell him, it’s useless, he don’t listen.”
And regarding a road to Sand Creek and the construction of some concrete bridges, these projects had never been tendered for, officials said. However, when a report was made, and a team from Georgetown was sent to investigate, minutes of the tender meetings appeared.

According to this newspaper’s sources, there were signatures of persons who attend the meetings and it was well known who they were. Additionally, they said, many had been working with the region for a long time and kept silent because they didn’t want to lose their years of service.

According to them, the lack of transparency and accountability in Region Nine is “worse than Region Four.” They said complaints had been made to a high level government team but nothing was done and “apparently they prefer him over us.” The workers said that on numerous occasions, Gajraj tells them that the country “is in debt” to his family.

The workers also said that they had been victimized and discriminated against and were willing to say what they knew once they would be assured that action would be taken, because according to one, “I can’t be victimized more than I am.”

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