Rehabilitation of High and Princes streets building on hold

– as government examines feasibility

Although some $750 million were allocated for rehabilitative works to the High and Princes streets building once proposed for the office of the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission (GGMC) and then the Ministry of Social Protection, government has put a hold on the spending to determine feasibility.

“That is a project which is under review, those sums were allocated but were not spent,” Minister of State Joseph Harmon said when asked for an update.

“We are looking at the feasibility of spending that sum of money on that building. And as recent as yesterday, the matter came up at our conference and we have undertaken to have a review of that decision. That is the current state of play,” he added

Last month, the Ministry of Social Protection advertised for tenders for the overhaul to the tune of $750 million.

According to an advertisement in the June 11th edition of the Stabroek News, the Ministry of Social Protection invited qualified contractors to tender for the completion of the administrative building at an estimated cost of $750 million. Separately, the construction of revetment, parking area and driveway for the office building were pegged at an estimated cost of $130 million.

The tenders were to be opened last week but Harmon said Cabinet made the decision to hold off on spending, pending an assessment of the feasibility of doing so.

In December last year, a spokesperson from the Ministry of Social Protection had told Stabroek News that the ministry was planning to relocate all of its offices into the building in 2018 and as such the government had earmarked $1 billion in the 2017 budget for its repairs. He had said then that the work on the building was expected to start in the first quarter of this year.

The complex was built in 2008 but has since been the source of much controversy due to defects in construction.

The 65,000-square ft facility was initially intended to house the former Ministry of Labour, whose offices were at that time scattered throughout the city. According to a former worker, the building was more than 70% completed when works stalled, with interior works and general painting being among the final things to be done. After it was abandoned, the compound became overgrown with grass and drug addicts subsequently occupied parts of the building.

It was next said to be earmarked for the Guyana Revenue Authority, but that entity objected to using the building.

In August 2012, then Minister of Natural Resources Robert Persaud announced that the government had transferred the building to the GGMC. The GGMC subsequently invited and evaluated bids for completion of the building but contention over the award saw the project put on hold and garnering the attention of Cabinet.

It was reported that the building’s foundation contained sub-standard material and the contractor, Kishan Bacchus Construction Company, had carried out works on the foundation and on the interior of the building that were in excess of contractual specifications. It was also disclosed that the ceiling of the building was improperly designed and as a result the placement of air vents and roofing works would have resulted in limited vertical space and the situation would need to be rectified.

Kishan Bacchus Construction Company only secured the contract after the initial contractor backed out of the project. It is unclear if anyone has ever been penalised for the substandard work done.

A forensic audit into the National Industrial and Commercial Investments Limited (NICIL) had found that $350 million in public funds were spent on the construction of the building.

NICIL’s former Executive Director Winston Brassington subsequently said that no law was broken in the entity’s funding of the ill-fated project. The funding for the project was approved at the parliamentary level.