The Surendra pumps

Enough has been reported on the $800M worth of pumps being supplied by the Indian company Surendra to warrant a thorough investigation of the deal by the Office of the Auditor General (OAG) and the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) of Parliament. It would have been even better if the Ministry of Agriculture could have provided clear and concise answers to the questions which have befuddled the public but it appears unwilling or incapable of doing this.

The Surendra deal is a prime example of why neither this nor any other government should be functioning without a Public Procurement Commission and enhanced transparency rules under the Public Procurement Act. Financing for these pumps came from India and as a result, as is also the case with Chinese funding, there is a built-in clause that the supplier must be sourced from the funding country. Former Auditor General Mr Anand Goolsarran has since pointed out that this stipulation which has been imposed upon the government is ultra vires of the Public Procurement Act which naturally enshrines a non-discrimination principle. This transgression cannot be easily glossed over and the government must in the future make it clear to donor countries that there cannot be impositions of that type.

However, the critical first question which should be investigated and pronounced upon is whether Surendra should have been chosen in the first place. It would be remembered that the PPP/C government had been accused of favouring this company for some unknown reason. Surendra had built the Enmore Packaging Plant which itself later encountered problems with a boiler that resulted in the death of a worker. Surendra’s name was then uttered in August 2011 in relation to the possible management of the troubled Skeldon and Enmore factories. This invocation had flummoxed many observers as they were not even aware that there had been some consideration by GuySuCo for management contracts for the estates particularly since the government had dispensed with the management services of Booker Tate which had produced good results for a large part of its tenure here. By September 2012, Surendra was involved in another major area, this time controversially winning the project to build the specialty hospital, a task it did not have previous experience with.

In the case of the supply of the pumps there had been other contenders who were known to be experienced providers of pumps with all of the components. The issue of the supply of the pumps is of grave importance considering the questions that have arisen. None of the answers provided by the Ministry of Agriculture has any coherence or consistency about them. Such was the disarray that the Head of the Presidential Secretariat, Dr Luncheon had to publicly differ with the Minister of Agriculture on the question of whether all of the pumps were in the country. The situation couldn’t have been more farcical than last month when it was revealed that a $265m pump station at Patentia was actually not one of the Surendra pump stations as had first been indicated but that the pump had been bought by the same company that supplied the Surendra pumps.

It all sounds amateurish and unprofessional. It is within these gaping accountability chasms that all types of shenanigans can occur. Like the contractor not performing according to requirements and not being held responsible. The prime example of this was the contractor for the Skeldon factory, CNTIC which managed to bequeath a poorly performing factory without having faced any penalties.

This must not happen in relation to the Surendra contract and it is time for straightforward answers from the Ministry of Agriculture and the responsible officials.

The contract was first mentioned in 2011, took effect from March 2012 and was to last a year. A one-month extension was given to April 2013. However, more than 15 months later no one can say that the contractor has signed off on the project and that all of the pumps and ancillary equipment are here. This is completely unacceptable given that there was an inscribed deadline for the supply and that in a country so vulnerable to flooding, time lost can be very costly.

It is to be hoped that the OAG, the PAC and those MPs in Parliament shadowing this sector will be able to elicit the answers to the following questions.

* When will the Surendra contract be tabled in Parliament for scrutiny?

* Eight fixed pumps were to be supplied. Are they here with all of their components and installed or ready to be installed? Which locations are these? What is the cost for each of these?

* Six mobile pumps were to be supplied. Are they all here and in use? Where are they located? What is the cost for each of these

* Have any of the pumps malfunctioned and is there a defects liability period?

* Were the pumps supplied in time and were liquidated damages applied at any stage?

* Under the contract, were all the pumps and components to be supplied by Surendra? Have some of the components been provided by other companies and was this catered for in the contract?

* What arrangements are in place to ensure that these pumps are adequately maintained? Have spare parts been catered for under the contract?

It is disturbing that a simple supply contract has engendered such skepticism and suspicion. However, it has become the standard for this government in many respects and is magnified by the subterfuge and evasiveness of the officials in question. This is no doubt one of the reasons why Guyana has consistently scored so poorly on Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index. Contract by contract, this government must mend its ways.

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