Taxpayers may be saddled with stelling bungle bill

-Jagdeo

Taxpayers may end up footing the multi-million dollar bill for remedial works on the bungled Supenaam Stelling, according to President Bharrat Jagdeo.

In May, Jagdeo ordered a review of the inoperable Supenaam ferry stelling following charges by construction company, BK International, that modifications done by the Ministry of Works led to its current state. The ministry has denied this and said it was the Transport and Harbours Department that took over a facility “which was inadequate to handle the typical flotation as well as the arrangement to get on to the vessel for the heavy truck traffic from the Essequibo”.

The ferry stelling, now inoperable due to structural problems, was completed to the tune of $431 million of contract-approved funds; an additional $17.2 million was expended by the Ministry of Public Works in modification works, Minister of Transport, Robeson Benn had said. The modifications included a drawbridge and a pontoon, both of which Benn said were “absolutely necessary” because the ministry took over the stelling “with great concerns”. Remedial works to enable the stelling to function are likely to cost millions of dollars.

Questioned on the issue during a press conference at the Office of the President yesterday, Jagdeo revealed the position of the parties involved in the construction. “When the report was presented to us the people said `Oh we designed the structure but the Ministry approved the design’. So even if the design was not properly done then they’re claiming that the ministry approved the design and then the contractor is saying `I built according to design’”, he said.

It is still to be decided who, if any, is culpable. “If it’s the Ministry we don’t have any recourse but if it’s the contractor or the consultant we need to take legal action against them. This is my instruction”, the President said. “If we can’t find anyone responsible…then we probably have to just foot the bill. It’s as simple as that”, he added. Jagdeo advised that Prime Minister Samuel Hinds be spoken to for further details. The PM’s office has not been forthcoming with information on the stelling probe despite several attempts by Stabroek News.

Benn had said that the Ministry of Local Government supervised the construction of the stelling and later issued a certificate of completion to BK International even though the completed project had obvious defects.

The drawbridge was a major source of contention between BK and the Works Ministry, with BK saying that it should not have been attached to the loading ramp and Benn saying that the installation of the 1.7-tonne steel drawbridge was to guarantee the safe offloading and reloading of vehicles, particularly trucks.

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