PAC Chairman chastises GDF for procurement law breaches in Timehri mess hall project

The Guyana Defence Force (GDF) was yesterday upbraided at a Public Accounts Committee (PAC) hearing for breaches of the procurement law in the construction of a Mess Hall at its Timehri Air Corps base.

Chairman of the committee Irfaan Ali highlighted that at least four breaches would have occurred, including the full payment to the contractor before the completion of works, the change of terms and conditions of the contract without the procurement board being notified, the failure to apply for a multi-year approval for the project, and committing the government to allocating funds with no certainty as to if they were available.

According to the Auditor General’s 2015 report, $12,336,000 was allocated toward the construction of the Mess Hall, but the contractor was overpaid by $6.574 million.

Colonel Paul Arthur

According to a response provided by the GDF, the contractor had sent correspondence to them on October 24, 2016 indicating willingness to complete the job and have it done within three weeks’ time. However, it was acknowledged that works, estimated at $841,280, were still to be completed.

Colonel Paul Arthur, the accounting officer for the GDF, tried to put the situation into perspective by referring to the contractor as “dishonest.” He noted that the building was about 80% completed.

Asked by committee member Juan Edghill why the contractor had been paid the full sum, Arthur related that according to information he had received, it was due to a change in scope of the project from the construction of a single flat building to the construction of a two-flat building.

“…Because the estimate was for a one-flat building and we decide that… a decision was made to do a two-flat building. So he was given all the monies and told to work it out, work out that money and when the money was [finished] we would have requested to have more money to complete the building,” Arthur stated.

“…You would agree that that might not have been the proper way of doing things… should not be the proper way of doing things. If a contract is awarded, the contract is awarded based on a set criteria, a set dimension of a building, bill of quantities, and a contractor is given a mobilization advance and then as work progress he is paid incrementally,” Ali responded.

According to the engineer Captain Jocelyn McAllister, with the change in scope, the final sum of the building is estimated to be $23 million.

Asked by committee member Jermaine Figueira what was the rationale for the board recommending an extension to the building, McAllister said that along with facilitating a kitchen and mess hall, it would be used to accommodate troops at the airport.

When McAllister could not confirm whether a bid security had been in place, Ali proceeded to point out the major discrepancies in the process.

“…The first breach is…, the full payment to the contractor. And if it was done December 31st, it was deliberately done to avoid returning the money to the Consolidated Fund. What you are supposed to do is return the money to the Consolidated Fund and apply for a multi-year approval from the Finance Secretary…,” Ali began.

“…The second breach is that you proceed[ed] with variation and you have no approval for such variation…the third breach is that you changed the terms and conditions of the contract without informing the National Procurement and Tender Administration Board. And now you have a situation where you may not have bid security to cover the extended period… this is a matter that the quartermaster may want to look at himself because as we see it here you’re exposing yourself and the GDF to possible financial losses,” he finished.

Ali later added that there was a further breach in “committing the government to approve an expense” they were not aware that they had the resources for.

It was related that no funds were allocated in the 2017 budget for the completion of the project.

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