No word on future of $600M incomplete High Street building

GPSU calls for probe

The future of a $600M incomplete government building at the corner of High and Princes Streets remains uncertain and the Guyana Public Service Union (GPSU) has called for a probe into the awarding and execution of the project.

The government has remained tight-lipped about the status of the building but this newspaper understands that the government holding company, the National Industrial and Commercial Investment Ltd (NICIL), has taken control of it.

The incomplete $600M government building at the corner of High and Princes Streets

NICIL head Winston Brassington could not comment on the issue when reached last week and he told this newspaper that he would pronounce on it at a later date. According to a source within the Public Works Ministry, NICIL was given control of the building and was handling the security and other aspects of its upkeep.

This newspaper had reported that there were several structural issues surrounding the multi-million dollar edifice while the authorities had encountered problems with the contractor, Kishan Bacchus Construction Company. Calls to numbers provided for the East Bank Demerara firm went unanswered when this newspaper attempted to contact the company recently.

The history of the building had been rocky from the inception and reports are that the initial winner of the first tender withdrew from the process. The project was subsequently put out to tender again and the contract was awarded to Kishan Bacchus Construction Company. A source attached to a local consultancy firm who is familiar with the project told this newspaper on Wednesday that the building’s foundation was built with sub-standard material. He said that the contractor had also carried out works on the foundation and on the interior of the building, in excess of the specifications and the authorities may have failed to monitor the project from the inception.

He said that the ceiling of the building was improperly designed and as such the placement of air vents and other roofing works would have resulted in limited vertical space.

Stabroek News observed recently that vagrants and homeless persons have been occupying the building while several glass windows have been shattered. Thick vegetation has also engulfed the site, while termites have taken a toll on parts of the structure.

Recently the GPSU expressed concern about the slow pace of rehabilitation works on the building and it called for a probe of the issues in relation to the structure which was earmarked to house the Labour and Human Services ministries along with several government agencies.

The union said that the deafening silence of the government speaks volumes about a project gone awry: “There have been allegations of possible corruption and collusion on this project, given the state of its incompletion, the moneys disbursed so far and the huge cost overrun.

The Union, therefore, calls on the Auditor General to carry out a forensic investigation into the circumstances surrounding the award and subsequent execution of the contract for the High Street building, and make such recommendations as are necessary for recouping monies inappropriately disbursed.”

The union also called on the government holding company NICIL to “demonstrate some initiative and commitment in getting the obviously stalled project restarted and completed.”

GPSU president Patrick Yarde told this newspaper recently that “it is appalling and disturbing“ where the priorities of the administration lie.

He said that the building in question should have been completed and fully occupied several months ago. “The authorities are going to spend monies on bringing in an elephant from India but what happens to the ordinary working class person or the common citizen affected by the floods?”

In 2001, a decision was taken by government to construct a new building after the Labour Ministry’s operation was decentralised following a fire. Construction started in April 2008 with the original deadline for completion placed at the end of December that year.

However, owing to problems in obtaining construction material and the weather, a five-month extension was granted to the contractor.

Construction of the 65,000 square-foot complex, being built on the plot of land that housed the former Guyana Broadcasting Corporation, was halted during the first quarter of 2011. Then Labour Minister Manzoor Nadir told this newspaper that the building had been reallocated to another agency and SN had reported that the centralised services of the Guyana Revenue Authority (GRA) were expected to be located there following a decision made by the government in September 2010. However, following several inspections, the agency officials decided against occupying the facility.

The building, according to a former worker, was more than 70% completed, with interior works and general painting being among the final things to be done.