After five years of paying out millions of taxpayers dollars more than it bargained for, and granting numerous extensions for its completion, the Government has been left with an unfinished School Meals Centre at Six Roads, St Philip, the Auditor General has revealed.
The contract was awarded to a firm which bid at nearly $20 million after then Minister of Education Ronald Jones overruled the tenders committee’s decision in favour of a bid that was almost two million dollars lower, at over $17 million. The project overran its costs by a further three million dollars. Total spent: $23 million.
Now, the contractor is demanding the Ministry of Education “clarify its position” on the project so it could decide if to “start arbitration proceedings”.
Auditor General Leigh Trotman has said this request should be “dealt with post-haste”.
“If negotiations prove unsuccessful, then the Ministry should seek legal advice on the matter,” the Government’s accounting overseer has recommended in his annual report.
The Auditor General’s Report for the financial year April 1, 2017 to March 2018, said that the building of new school meals centre, which was to be completed on January 2014, after construction commenced in August 2012, was still incomplete even after numerous extensions to the deadline.
Construction was due to begin on August 31, 2012, at a cost of $19.9 million. Part of that figure, $6.66 million, was allocated for the procurement and installation of kitchen equipment.
But as of December 31, 2018, the Government had already spent $23.12 million, inclusive of $7.38 million for the kitchen equipment.
The new centre was to be built to provide meals for schools in St Philip, Christ Church, St John and parts of St George, as well as cater to an emergency response event of a national disaster.
It was to replace two centres: Summervale, St Philip, which was closed to facilitate the construction of the new prison at Dodds, and St Christopher, Christ Church, which was operating in extremely cramped conditions while providing meals to 20 schools instead of the two for which it was originally built.
The Six Roads project involved the building two-storey building; the procurement, installation and commissioning of kitchen and related equipment; and the training of personnel to use that equipment.
The project was publicly tendered during the months of January and February 2011. The Tenders Committee recommended the contract be awarded to “Firm 1” in the amount of $17.68 million, but Jones countermanded the board, leading to the contract being awarded to “Firm 2” in the amount of $19.90 million.
The Auditor General said: “The rationale for varying the recommendation was based on the view that the award of the contract to ‘Firm 1’ would not lend to the most effective utilisation of domestic labour, and maximum circulation of the financial resources to be invested in the project.” The firms were not named in the report.
But after granting three extensions of the completion date at a cost of $1 million, due to various factors including the discovery of the cavity in the foundation, revised drawings for the water tank, the foundation, plumbing and electrical items as well as the procurement and installation of certain finishes and items, the project was only about 68 per cent complete by the November 2014 deadline. The value of work and materials on site was $13.62 million.
As of January this year, the Auditor General estimated that the building was approximately 90 per cent complete. But the kitchen equipment, the heart of the school meals centre, is yet to be installed.
Auditor General Trotman said: “A key issue here was the dispute between the Contractor and Contract Administrator about the correct drain pipes to be installed in a section of the kitchen.”
Government incurred more than $56,000 in interest cost for late payments, while the contractor complained that the late payments were hindering the progress of the project.
The Auditor General’s report revealed that consultants for that project were being paid some $22,600 a month: mechanical engineers ($4,500), civil and structural engineers ($3,400), quantity surveyors ($3,400) and the architect including a “kitchen equipment consultant” ($11,300).
An agreement with the kitchen equipment supplier was signed on October 16, 2015 at a contract price of $7.02 million, $0.43 million more than what was approved by Cabinet, and no timeframe for completion of the work was given.
The quantity surveyor indicated in a financial review dated August 31, 2018, that the anticipated final project cost would be $25.36 million.
Additional parking area was also approved in January 2016 at a cost of $1.20 million. About $275,000 was paid to the contractor to start the additional car park, but nothing could be done since a boat and occupant was on the property.
“At December 31, 2018, the boat has not been removed from the property,” said the Auditor General, who recommended that the Ministry of Education should ensure no future encumbrances on the land.
“Furthermore, funds should not have been disbursed for the car park when the boat was still on the property. This has resulted in monies being disbursed unnecessarily which could have been utilised in another area,” he said.
The Auditor General has recommended that the project manager be required to give an account as to why the project escalated to its current position.
The Ministry of Education did not provide a comment on the report’s findings up to news-time.
But acting Minister of Education Senator Lucille Moe told Barbados TODAY that while she had read the report, she preferred not to comment until ministry officials met to fully discuss the issue. She would only say that the Mottley administration would address the issues raised in the report.
Moe said: “I would like the opportunity to have discussions on the report with the substantive minister of education [Santia Bradshaw], who will be on-island shortly… and with the entire ministry with regard to that report.”