There’s a dispute between the government and the company contracted to execute the major road rehabilitation project currently under way on Friars Hill Road and Sir George Walter Highway.
The parties – the government and the contractor, Bahamas Hot Mix (BHM) – are now before an arbitrator as they hope to come to an amicable agreement.
The row is over whether BHM should get an extension on its contract, with pay, but the government does not wish to grant this, as it believes the job can be completed within three months.
It should be noted that the work is far from finished, but only two months remain on the contract.
The dispute started some months ago, according to Dennis Cudjoe, Project Coordinator for the Project Implementation Management Unit (PIMU), who told OBSERVER media yesterday that it took this long to reach arbitration because of certain contractual requirements that had to be met in order for an arbitrator to be selected. The arbitrator was finally chosen in December 2018.
But the PIMU Project Coordinator declined to name the individual, saying the agreement is still being worked on and is to be executed soon.
“What I can say is that it is a one-man panel and it is an outside arbitrator. The person is a chartered engineer and a lawyer,” he said.
Cudjoe said the arbitrator was selected under the process which was outlined in the contract from the onset.
“We went through that process and we are at the stage of actually signing the agreement. It hasn’t been fully executed as yet. Two persons still have to sign off on it,” he added.
On Tuesday the Minister of Works, Lennox Weston, told the media that the matter is in arbitration and a decision is expected within three weeks.
He recalled that the road project, financed by the UK, was contracted after being internationally tendered.
BHM won that tender and Minister Weston said its initial design called for the Antigua Public Utilities Authority (APUA) “to bury the utilities underground. APUA had said they were going to take three months to do it. As you know, they underestimated the work, so APUA took 12 months.”
The minister said, in his view, the extension was not necessary because BHM could have started its work from the end where APUA had finished instead of waiting for everything to be completed.
“They have protested that and they are going to arbitration. In the meantime, you can see that they are still working. If public works was doing that road it would have finished in three months; and it is hard because we are getting the blame. But all we are, are the managers of a contract with a lot of legal consequences,” he said.
Weston lamented that BHM is a firm which has a “battery of lawyers normally” and the company chose to take the arbitration approach in terms of seeking extension payment for the nine months that APUA took.
He reiterated, “Our view is that it did not hinder them from starting at the end which APUA finished at first. And they also have a contract in Barbuda where they have the hotmix plant and that hotmix plant was designed to be used on the road in Antigua and sometimes you kinda wonder if they are trying to finish the airport before they bring the hotmix plant over.”
Weston said the company seems to have its “own motivation” but he did not state what that motivation is.
He noted that the company is being paid in stages, and they can and should speed up the pace of work on the road.
While he excused the long time taken by APUA, saying, “APUA has done their part … it is the first time they are burying everything and you know the complexities … We are burying over 80 million dollars’ worth of infrastructure. Next hurricane we will save $80 million.”
On 9th February 2017 the Government of Antigua and Barbuda officially launched the road rehabilitation project to upgrade the Sir George Walter Highway and Friars Hill Road.
The project is funded through a grant of GBP £13.9M (US $17.4M) from
the United Kingdom Caribbean Infrastructure Partnership Fund (UKCIF), which is administered by the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB).
At the time of the project launch, the government said the two main roads are used daily by approximately 75 percent of people living in Antigua.
The rehabilitation project covers approximately 8.7 km of road network connecting the capital, St. John’s, prime tourism areas, heavily populated communities, and the V.C. Bird International Airport.