‘Don’t fall into the same habits’– PAC cautions Reg. 10 on bypassing lowest bidders, overpayments

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The regional administration of Region 10 (Upper Demerara–Berbice) was made to answer on Monday to a series of instances where the lowest bidders for contracts were sidestepped and millions were also made in overpayments to contractors, some of whom are yet to repay.

Regional Executive Officer Dwight John, although not the accounting officer in 2016, was made to answer to the Parliamentary Public Accounts Committee (PAC) on the instances as reported in the Auditor-General Report of 2016.

That report found that the regional Tender Board had awarded 14 current projects totalling $38.5 million, but none were to the lowest or most responsive bidder.

In one instance, the contract was awarded to the highest of three bidders.

In addition, 17 capital projects for draining, irrigation and roads were awarded, but not to the lowest or most responsive bidder.

The Tender Board minutes provided no explanation for why the lowest bidders were sidestepped.

In offering an explanation, REO John said that the Tender Board usually takes guidance from the evaluators and noted that several reasons could prevent the lowest bidders from securing a contract.

It may be as simple as not having an updated compliance; something that automatically disqualifies any bidder.

Minister of Public Works, Juan Edghill

Minister of Public Works Juan Edghill raised serious concern with the fact that no explanations were in the minutes.

“The process is left to still be judged… it is a bigger issue than minutes keeping,” he added.

But according to PAC member, Minister of Governance and Parliamentary Affairs, Gail Teixeira the Procurement Act should be followed closely which specifies that contracts be awarded to the lowest or most responsive bidder.

“The Lessons in 2016 should be a caution to ensure that we don’t fall into the same habits”, Teixeira told REO John and his team of regional executives.

But another issue plaguing the region from 2016 to now is overpayments to contractors. Again, just like the REO, the current engineer is not the same person who was there in 2016.

Opposition Parliamentarian Ganesh Mahipaul said it was clear that engineers needed to do better to ensure that contractors only receive full and final payment based on measured and completed works.

“Then overpayment will not occur unless the engineer and the Auditor General are using two different measuring tapes,” he said.

In 2016, a contractor was overpaid $394, 962 for external works to the Coomacka Nursery School; another $274, 396 was overpaid for the extension of the ambulance unit and general rehab of the Upper Demerara Hospital.

There were also overpayments for the repair and maintenance of the single-lane bridge and approach in Blue Berry Hill with monies outstanding from overpayments that occurred since 2010 and 2012 for repairs and maintenance of the Ituni Health Center.

Edghill has asked that the REO provide evidence on the efforts made to recover all overpaid sums since 2016.

“Letters were sent to recalcitrant contractors on their payments,” John assured.

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