All the poor performers executing government- funded contracts should be weeded out

Dear Editor,

At a workshop hosted by the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB) titled, ‘Procurement and management of professional services workshop for consultants,’ the government has finally acknowledged that it has encountered serious problems with contractors and consultants executing government financed projects as they have failed to perform in accordance with the terms and conditions of their contracts. Minister of Finance, Dr Ashni Singh made the lame duck excuse that the government’s hands were tied so tight that it could do nothing to make the errant contractors and consultants accountable for their shoddy work.

This is unfortunate as the government was aware of this problem for many years now, but little or nothing constructive was done to remedy the situation. However, the landscape seems to have changed and Finance Minister Ashni Singh now acknowledges that the government had the political responsibility to ensure that all the contracts it awarded were executed as per their contractual agreements and were completed within the time frame and costs. Sadly Minister Singh claims he was not aware of any known mechanism which could have been used to penalize the contractors and consultants who have defaulted. So they kept on getting government contracts.

If the contractors working on government projects were selected based on their track record, competency and financial viability, among other considerations, and not because they were the lowest bidders, many of the problems now being encountered would have been avoided. Similarly, the consultants employed should have been screened to ensure they had the relative experience and capability for the assignments and that their support staff were qualified and experienced. All construction contracts should have enforceable penalty clauses to get rid of contractors who fail to perform in accordance with the terms and conditions of their contracts. Contractors should also provide contract bonds to ensure that money will be available in the event of a problem. Similarly, consultants’ contracts should hold them responsible for faulty designs, shoddy work, corruption and fraud. In many countries they are usually hauled before the courts and sentenced to prison terms for such practices. The government cannot sit on the sidelines and state that its hands are tied while the contractors and consultants perform as they please and get away with shoddy performance.

In a managed project, the supervising consultant monitors construction progress and ensures that milestones are met as are shown on carefully prepared work progress schedules. Therefore any delay could be spotted quickly and addressed to the satisfaction of the government to get the project back on track. If no satisfactory action is taken and slippages continue then the contract should be terminated rather than allow a bad situation to get worse. It is this reluctance by the government to deal with tardy contractors who fail to perform, that projects such as the Hope Canal, and East Bank and East Coast Highway upgrades are in such a mess.

Project supervision is usually done by consulting engineers and/or engineering firms specializing in project management. It is not unusual for the consultants who designed the project to be retained for the supervision of its construction. The construction supervisor is obligated to execute his duty in a professional manner in accordance with his contractual agreement. Failure to do so could lead to legal proceedings if he engages in such malfeasance as falsifying payments or approving shoddy work. Construction supervisors’ primary duties are to ensure that a project is constructed in accordance with the plans and specifications, monitor construction progress, determine valuation for work done, recommend payments and sign off when the project is completed. They are not responsible for design flaws, and although they could recommend changes as they often do to the design and specifications, these have to be approved in the first instance by the client (government) and the design engineer.

If the government has determined that a design consultant, management consultant or contractor has failed to perform his duties in accordance with his contractual agreement, then it should legally terminate his employment and debar him from future government work for a pre-determined period or entirely depending on the cause. Unless the government enforces severe penalties on those who have failed to perform, contract-ors/consultants will continue to carry out their work as they have done for the past several years, leaving Guyanese to pick up the tab for the cost related thereto. After all, Courtney Benn Construction Services (CBCS) was given a contract to relocate the sewerage pipe at Kingston. He failed to perform and his contract was terminated. Some time later he was awarded another government contract to construct a sluice at Hope. His contract was once again terminated a few days ago because of his failure to perform. BK International (BKI) is constructing a government funded regulator on the East Demerara Water conservancy dam. The project has a large time and cost overrun. Yet the government awarded BKI yet another contract to expand the East Bank Highway. This contract is also way behind schedule with a large cost overrun as BKI fights with GT&T, GWI, GPL and the weather to get things done, rather than accept the blame for poor management.

The government cannot continue at this rate and conduct business as usual. It has to weed out all those poor performers and bring in those firms with the relevant experience and qualifications to do the job. It could probably elicit some help to do so from a newly constituted Public Procurement Commission (PPC).

Yours faithfully,

Charles Sohan  

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