GUYANA: Corruption?: The Queen’s College Living Quarters Contract – Opinion

Stabroek News

By December 29, 2021

Almost two months to the day after the World Bank had staged its October 25-28 forum on the subject of Data Analytics for Anticorruption in Public Administration, in which it had made some pointed observations about the nexus between corruption and poverty in poor countries, the Stabroek News published in its December 23 issue an article headlined “Education Ministry signed contracts for over G$15 million before Internal Tender Board’s approval.” (See article below)

The content of the article had to do with, not one, but a series of blatant irregularities in the official handling of a contract “for repairs to the Queen’s College living quarters,” a modest assignment in monetary terms, as state contracts go.

The article is worth reading because of its articulation of what continues to be the flippant manner in which political administrations in our country ‘play monopoly’ with public monies and lawful procedures, in this instance, seemingly in pursuit of the dispensation of what appears to be a political favour, even as government continues to trumpet the virtues of responsibility, accountability and good governance.              

What is of particular note here is the fact that Minister of Education Priya Manickchand seemingly didn’t even trouble herself to concede that this outrageous fast-tracked ‘green-lighting’ of the Queen’s College Living Quarters project took irregularity to a bizarre extreme, contemptuously upending barriers to such irregularities that are set out in the Procurement Act of 2002. Not only, it seemed, was this an attempt to fashion an absurd acceleration of the contract award in question, but also, again seemingly, to perpetrate an unexplained and blatant anomaly in the disbursement of public funds.

The particular anomalies are sufficiently glaring, sufficiently absurd, to merit articulation here. First, the QC Living Quarters contract was signed “on December 2, 2020 some 29 days before its award.” That, in the real world, raises compelling questions about the substantive legitimacy of the contract. Secondly, “the contract was signed for $1.982 million, $49,139 more than the awarded sum. Here again, there appears to have been no available explanation (at least not a publicly available one) for the ‘top up’ to the substantive contract sum. Thirdly, “the Superintendent of Works certified the works as satisfactorily completed on December 28, 2020, three days before the award of the contract” and the “full sum” of the contract payment approved for payment on December 17, 2020.” Is this for real? How on earth do we account for this travesty?

It the blatancy of these astounding irregularities extends into mind-boggling proportions, the Minister’s decision to engage the media on the matter without, by her own admission, first looking internally (into her Ministry, that is) for a plausible account of these remarkable anomalies, takes things to an altogether different level.  “I cannot remember all of the details right now but there is an explanation even though I might not be happy with it” is what she told the reporter with whom she spoke.  Light years from ministerial, to say the least. By opting to engage a section of the media on a matter that had raised serious accountability and procedural questions, including ones that had to do with the disbursement of public funds without, by her own admission, first, sitting down with the Ministry’s Permanent Secretary, the Minister fell woefully short of what one would expect to be the minimum level of application in a matter that had clear and unquestionable implications for considerations of public accountability.

Going forward, one feels that these are not matters that can be brushed aside without wondering whether this particular occurrence is not a microcosm of a far bigger problem that will, in the longer term, cause us, going forward, to fall into an even deeper abyss of greater disregard for accountability, where we become even more comfortable with the notion that corruption can exist cheek by jowl with the responsibility of managing the resources of the state.

Education Ministry signed contracts for over G$15.6m before internal Tender Board’s approval

-Auditor General’s report also sees contract splitting

Education Minister Priya Manickchand
Education Minister Priya Manickchand

The findings were contained in the Auditor General’s report for the 2020 financial year, which was laid in the National Assembly on December 13.

When contacted, Education Minister Priya Manickchand said that she became aware of the issue when it was raised by the Auditor General during their investigation. She added that there is an explanation behind the signing of the contracts before being awarded.

“There is an explanation but I cannot remember all of the details right now but there is an explanation even though I may not be happy with it. I would have to sit down with you (Stabroek News) and the PS (Permanent Secretary of the Ministry) and share with you the details because he is the one that have them. I do not have them at this time,” Manickchand said last evening.

Under the heading ‘education subventions and grants’, the Ministry awarded a G$1.933 million contract for repairs to the Queen’s College living quarters on December 31, 2020, but an examination of the contract document revealed that it was signed on December 02, 2020, some 29 days before its award. The Auditor General said that that represents a breach of the procurement act and further found that the contract was signed for G$1.982 million which is $49,139 more than the awarded sum.

Sharma reported that the Superintendent of Works certified the works as satisfactorily completed on December 28, 2020 – 3 days before the award of the contract – and the full sum of G$1.943 million was approved for payment on December 17, 2020. That means that the payment was approved 14 days before the contract was even awarded and the payment was made on January 29, 2021.

The Auditor General’s report said that physical verification of the works, conducted on June 7, 2021, showed that the old windows were removed and replaced with new aluminium sliding windows, installation of new doors, repairs to cupboard and tiling works, painting of the building and rainwater installations were completed.

“However, two of the windows installed were smaller than that which was specified in the quotation, while none of the internal pinewood panel doors installed was painted, as specified in the contract, despite (this), the works were certified satisfactorily completed by the Superintendent of Works on the 28 December 2020,” the AG’s report stated.

Linden Technical Institute

The Ministry of Education signed four contracts for repairs to the Linden Technical Institute (LTI) in Region 10 during the month of December 2020. However, all of those contracts were signed before being awarded.

The first contract was awarded on December 14, 2020, to the tune of G$2.918 million for repairs to LTI’s admin building, mechanical and welding workshop. However, the actual contract was signed seven days before on December 07. Additionally, the date of commencement of the works and the engineer’s estimate was not seen by the Auditor General.

Nevertheless, a final valuation of works completed was seen along with the final payment certificate which was prepared and certified for payment on the same date the contract was signed.

The Auditor General said that with no engineer’s estimate provided, it remains unclear as to how the Ministry determined that the contractor’s quoted prices were fair and reasonable at the time, while the contractor did not cater for any defects liability period.

“Physical verification carried out on 8 June 2021 revealed that an overpayment of G$821,000 was made to the contractor based on the measurements and calculations of the completed works,” the report stated.

On December 21, 2020, another contract was awarded for repairs to the roof of the institute to the sum of G$2.985 million. The Auditor General’s examination of the contract document showed that the contract was signed on December 7 while the final payment certificate was prepared and certified for payment on the same day. That was 14 days before the actual contract was awarded.

Additionally, the AG said that the date of commencement of the works could not be determined from the examined documents, nor was there an engineer’s estimate. The ministry made the payment on January 25, 2021, and a June 8 verification exercise found that the contractor received $120,000 in overpayment.

A $2.942 million contract was awarded for the repairs and maintenance works to roof over the computer lab and library at Linden Technical Institute on December 21, 2020, but examination of the contract document and payment vouchers, by the AG, revealed that the contract was signed 19 days before the award. The works were certified completed on December 12, 2020. Another contract was awarded on December 31, 2020, for maintenance works to the tune of $2.895 million but the contract signing date was not recorded.

However, the final valuation of the completed works was dated 29 December 2020 which is 2 days before the award of the contract.

“The works completion certification was signed on the 30 December 2020 before the date the contract was awarded. The physical verification carried out on the 8 June 2021 on the completed works, measurement and calculations reflect no discrepancies,” the report stated.

In response to the findings, the Ministry promised to ensure that better systems are in place to prevent a recurrence.

Additionally, the AG said that the Ministerial Tender Board, for the period under review, awarded three contracts on the same date for a total sum of $20.514 million to complete works on the New Central High School and accused the Ministry of “contract splitting”, a longstanding illegal practice in government accounts.

The Auditor-General said, “The Ministerial Tender Board limit being G$8M it is of the view that the Ministry was involved in contract splitting to facilitate the awarding of the contracts by the Ministerial Tender Board, in breach of Section 14 of the Procurement Act of 2003 which clearly states that ‘A procuring entity shall not split or cause to split contracts or divide or cause to divide its procurement into separate contracts where the sole purpose for doing so is to avoid the application of any provision of this Act or any regulations made thereunder”.

The contracts were awarded for the rehabilitation of the New Central High School.

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  • Stanley Chan Choong  On 12/30/2021 at 10:09 am

    Always sad news from home. Same crap, different day !

  • Alfred Butters  On 01/02/2022 at 12:53 pm

    There are protocols of Invitation For Bid (IFB) , Request For Proposal (RFP) that may involve firm fixed price, time and Material, design build, and other contracts. Involved in these protocols are guidance for proposals, submission, contract review evaluation of ( price and technical competence). Since these proceedings are operated within strict confidence and in secrecy, evaluations of proposals by a designated committee or a board that rates the competing entities must be observed to legitimize the process. These reviews are complicated and they require input from various disciplines to judge the most suitable candidate. In many instances the deciding body authorizes a designated contracting officer who most always fall under the Procurement Administration to act on behalf of the Authority to issue a contract. Generally the selected entity must indicate their acceptance by their duly Designated counter part of the contracting entity. When the time and start date are mutually acceptable, the financial consideration is accepted, and the scope of work is delineated and material aspects of completion defined and agreed upon, among other things,the contract offer occurs. The contract is executed when signatures of designated officers approved to sign on behalf of both parties binding each other to the terms of agreement defined. Under these or or similar circumstances a Notice to Proceed is issued. Upon satisfactory completion or partial completion invoices are prepared. The progress is billed as a partial payment. In some cases depending upon the nature of the work, an advance payment could be involved to start up. In many cases that is known as a front end load. A schedule of front end load payments are generally negotiated but sign offs are required by the technical and financial contracting officers representatives. None of the personnel involved in the procurement process is authorized to pre empt any other decision maker. All contractors invoices are scrutinized by independent sources, where by scope of work, line items are monitored. If there are exceptions to be taken, on the grounds of impropriety or inappropriate funding sources being used, an exception report is repaired outlining the exception in detail and that amount is deducted from the invoice and held as a part of a liability in a separate retention account. So as to make the progress payment on a timely basis the review may take place after the first payment but before next payment. I have outlined in summary form a brief treaties of disciplinary skills to provide a better comprehension of the malperformance and malfeasance that appears common practice in The contract award QC and C H contracts definitely demonstrated by corruption or ignorance of protocol. I am not criticizing any official I am being critical of the process that allowed flagrant violations of protocol to go unnoticed.

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