India’s government will be taking over responsibility for the Indian immigration monument project that was initiated at Palmyra, in Berbice.
The Department of Culture, Youth and Sport has already handed over documents to India’s High Commissioner to Guyana Venkatachalam Mahalingam and a technical engineering team and is awaiting word on whether the project would continue at the current site or at another location at Highbury, also in Berbice
“The big problem is who started the project did so without the necessary geo-technical evaluation of the location. We inherited everything like that and then it collapsed. As a result, on that we called on [Ministry of] Infrastructure to do the geo-technical study and a report. They did that and submitted a report and by then we met with the Indian High Commissioner, who had asked to meet with us. The report was given to him and he has it with his engineers. He has it and he will decide where they take it, but more than likely it will continue to be built right there,” Minister of Social Cohesion George Norton told Sunday Stabroek last Wednesday.
Norton is also responsible for the Department of Culture, Youth and Sport, under which the project falls.
The base for the US$150,000 bronze sculpture, a gift from the Government of India, crumbled in late April, while works were ongoing in a bid to meet the May 5th Indian Arrival Day observances.
It was said to be 85 percent complete at the time of the collapse.
The project had initially been divided into three phases.
Phase One, which dealt with the preparatory works, including the construction of an access road at the site, was awarded to Erron Lall Civil Engineering Works on September 12, 2016, at a cost of $43 million, following bids from 13 companies. The Department of Public Information (DPI) had stated that up to the point of collapse, some $26.5 million had been paid to the contractor and 60 percent of the works had been completed.
Phase Two, which entailed the construction of the base, had been contracted to Alternative Contracting Enterprise, at a cost of $42.2 million. The contractor had been paid $22.8 million up to that point, and while government gave no estimate of the works completed, an employee had told this newspaper it was 85 percent complete.
Phase Three, entails the landscaping and the finishing work at the site. Bids were received from 11 companies, and an $8.2 million contract for the work had been awarded to BK International. The DPI had said that that aspect of the works has since been suspended.
The Indian government had promised technical assistance, according to the DPI, which had issued a statement on the collapse, blaming the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) for the poor design of the structure following its collapse.
Former Minister of Culture, Youth and Sport Dr Frank Anthony under the PPP/C had denied any wrongdoing on his ministry’s part.
Since the embarrassing collapse in April, the project has come under close scrutiny. While most opined that the cause of the collapse was substandard work, questions were also raised about the awarding of the $42 million contract for the construction to the Linden-based company, Alternative Contracting Enterprise (ACE).
Work for the structure was procured through the Ministry of Education’s Department of Culture, Youth and Sport, and then Minister of Education, Dr Rupert Roopnaraine, had told this newspaper that the ministry had solicited the help of the Ministry of Public Infrastructure (MPI) for an investigation, so as to guide the way forward.
Norton said that investigation had been completed and he had handed it to the Indian High Commissioner when the two met earlier last month to decide on a way forward. He informed that the Indian government said that it had always wanted to fully fund the project.
“They always wanted to fund it. They will say, now, how and when it will be built and if they will condemn everything that was there. We had said that if everything was to start fresh, we might as well have gone to Highbury and not Palmyra. If we can salvage anything, we will continue at Palmyra. The High Commissioner of India is looking at both sites,” Norton added.
He said that if the Indian engineers decide to build at Highbury, the Palmyra site would not be abandoned, as there are still some plans for the lands there.
“But I want you to know that we will not abandon Palmyra. If we decide to go to Highbury where some people had always wanted, we will make Palmyra a park or into something else,” Norton said.
He explained that his team was scheduled to have another meeting with the Indian High Commissioner last week to hear what was their decision will be. However, because of the budget debate this could not be realised.
Norton assured that before the end of the year he will “definitely” give an update on the fate of the project.