$67M approved for bungled stelling repairs

Should all go according to plan, the bungled Supenaam Stelling should be operational by the end of January, Transport and Hydraulics Minister Robeson Benn yesterday told the National Assembly.

“By the end of January, we expect the stelling to be operational,” Benn told the House after PNCR-1G MP Deborah Backer enquired how soon residents in Regions 1, 2 and 3 would have access to the facility.  The House was at the time debating a $6,861, 976,200 supplementary appropriation (No.2 for 2010), which sought to provide for the issue of $67,536,700 for the stelling repairs from the Consolidated Fund.

The stelling has been down since April, when a section of the structure collapsed as officials from the Works Ministry were working on it. BK International had won the contract to construct the facility, which cost some $450 million to build.  The company and the ministry of Public Works blamed each other for the problems with the stelling, following the collapse of the end beam of its loading ramp. An investigation was launched to determine culpability for the collapse, the results of which have not been released to date.  However, the government has since announced that taxpayer’s money would have to fund repairs to the structure. Cabinet Secretary Dr Roger Luncheon last month told Stabroek News pegged the figure at some $40 million to $50 million.

However, yesterday the House voted that $67,536,700 be granted from the Consolidated Fund to facilitate remedial works to the stelling. The initial provision voted for the year was $75M.

When Opposition Leader Robert Corbin questioned Benn about what will now be “the real cost” of the stelling, Benn said he did not have the information at hand but promised that it would be supplied “in due course.”

However, Benn rejected suggestions that the Ministry of Public Works bungled the stelling. “The ministry took over a project, which required remedial works and in doing so…discovered that more work needed to be done,” he said. Previously, the Works Ministry denied that it was to be blamed for the state of the stelling 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 onto the vessel for the heavy truck traffic from the Essequibo.”

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

The ferry stelling, now inoperable because of 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, 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.”

However, according to BK International head Brian Tiwari, it was the ministry’s modifications to the stelling that “messed up” the structure. The company said it had completed the project to the exact design and specifications as requested.

Luncheon, however, said that all parties were to be blamed. “No one hand could be judged to be clean,” he said. “Indeed the design had flaws, construction had flaws and supervision had flaws. What I did say is that this is not the time to just point fingers and allocate blame; we have to fix that stelling in anticipation of the arrival of the Chinese (roll on roll off) ferry,” he said.

On Wednesday, the government signed an agreement with China for the delivery of two passenger ferries. Benn said that as a consequence modifications had to be made to the Parika and Supenaam stellings since the vessels will provide services along the Essequibo River between the two areas.

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