By Robert A. Emmanuel
Following the revelation by Minister of Works Lennox Weston – at the opening of the new Treasury Building – that the costs to erect that structure and two others exceeded their budgets by more than $50 million, several analysts have called for a change in how projects are managed.
On yesterday’s Big Issues, CEO ofDisclosure Today Rishi Maharaj and Political Analyst Dr. Oswald Thomas sought to address how such cost overruns could be avoided.
While Dr. Thomas believed it was “frightening” that the government allowed such overruns to occur, he argued that the best way forward was to “look at the systems we have in place and whether those systems of accountability are working, or do we, as an emerging democracy, need to change these system.”
One of Minister Weston’s criticisms was the use of a single contractor to complete the three projects.
Dr. Thomas argued that the government should “look at the best practices done internationally” and suggested the establishment of an Office of Procurement and Contracts, an independent office for project management where “analysts who are assigned to projects and can deal with these projects, manage them and report [the results] to the Permanent Secretary.”
Maharaj said that the question arises whether the contractor assigned to the construction of these buildings had sufficient capacity – whether it was equipment or manpower – to undertake all three projects at the same time.
“Does it really make sense to give a major contract like this to one single contractor and does he have the scope in terms of manpower, financial resources, equipment?” Maharaj asked.
He also questioned whether the administrations’ set timetable—which normally follow the political timescale within their five years of holding political office—was realistic compared to the “legitimate time that these projects could be undertaken with.”
Maharaj argued that the best solution for the government would be to learn from its mistakes in carrying out these three projects.
“Cost overruns are nothing new to government projects, regardless of which political party is in power, but I think it is important to learn from what went on with regards to these projects, where were the flaws and where did the system fail and implement new legislation or have an independent body to look at the procurement process so that, at the end of the day, these mistakes do not happen again,” Maharaj argued.
Dr. Thomas also argued that a full report on the costs and the challenges that the construction of these buildings faced should be made public to ensure full accountability and transparency to the Antiguan and Barbudan public.
The Treasury Building had been under construction for six years, while the headquarters for the Department of Marine Services, which also broke ground around the same time, is yet to be completed.