Plans to construct a four-storey building as part of the expansion of the Mazaruni Prison had to be scrapped owing to water availability and fire hazard concerns, Minister of Public Security Khemraj Ramjattan said last month.
In July last year, the minister adverted to government’s plan to begin phased construction of the structure in 2018. However, it was only while being quizzed on the 2019 budgetary allocations for his ministry, that he disclosed that those plans have changed.
Included in the $1.4 billion that was allocated for prisons was $709 million for the expansion of the Mazaruni Prison as well as $77 million for a consultancy.
During the consideration of the estimates, the minister was asked if any changes were made to the design for the construction of the prison and whether the changes were made before or after the signing of the contract.
In his response, Ramjattan explained that there have been no changes apart from that which was already effected by the National Security Committee and the president.
“There is no change in design as far as I am aware of but initially it was supposed to be a four-storey building and then that was changed by the National Security Committee and the president saying that we would not have water for a four-storey and that it would be a fire hazard, so we have to redesign for a two-storey and expand the area where we will have the two-storey building… This decision was taken after the signing of the contract,” he said.
The alteration of the plan would raise question about the conceptualizing of the project and the preparation work that had gone into it. Water availability and fire hazards have been major concerns for infrastructural projects over many years.
Some 20 per cent of works have been completed thus far, which is reflective of a cost that is in excess of $500M, Ramjattan disclosed.
A $26.5M contract was awarded to Vikab Engineering Consultants, a Trinidad-based company to provide consultancy services for the design of the expansion of the Mazaruni Prison. That design was accepted by both the minister and the president in June 2017.
“It is gonna be costly but we wanted an area to remove the overpopulation of the more serious prisoners to a safe place in Mazaruni and that has started,” Ramjattan had said back then while pointing out that $276M was allocated for the first phase of construction, which will cover the concrete structure and the foundation.
Twelve houses, he added, will also be built to accommodate prison officers, who will be needed to control the increased prison population. In the 2018 budget, he had said, more money will be allocated because government wanted a four-storey building.
When the Department of Public Information announced on October 17th 2017 that bids were out for the project, it stated that the engineer’s estimate was pegged at $2.8B. But on December 21st when tenders for the project were opened at the National Procurement and Tender Administration Board, the Engineer’s estimate was announced as $3.186B.
At a post-Cabinet press conference on December 29th, 2017, Minister of State Joseph Harmon had announced that the joint venture between local company Nabi Construction and Trinidadian Kee-Chanona had won the contract with a bid of $3.5B.
According to documents seen by Stabroek News, BK International Inc on that very day, lodged a protest with the Public Procurement Commission over the award of the contract citing the alleged “overnight” increasing of the engineer’s estimate for the project. In a letter written to Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Public Security, Daneilla McCalmon, BK expressed concerns about the bidding process.
BK’s bid was $2.51B
Ramjattan subsequently indicated that he will be looking into the concerns raised to determine if there were any breaches in the process. It is unclear what the outcome was.
The expansion of the prison is in keeping with one of the recommendations coming out of the Commission of Inquiry into the 2016 Camp Street prison fire which left 17 inmates dead. Granger and Ramjattan visited the prison on March 6, 2016 as part of government’s search for a long-term solution to the problems of the prison service.
The Mazaruni facility, which sits on 20 acres of land, has living quarters for prison officers, blocks for the inmates and land for agricultural development.