By Elesha George
Arbitration on the future of the road works completion has been pushed back to mid-January, a little over one year after an adjudicator was selected to preside over a dispute between Bahamas Hot Mix (BHM) and the government of Antigua and Barbuda.
BHM was contracted to complete work on the Sir George Walter Highway and the Friars Hill Road within 20 months, beginning in September of 2017. However, there were delays which the construction company reportedly said were caused by the Antigua Public Utilities Authority (APUA) because they took an additional nine months to bury utility lines.
The construction company had asked for more time and money to complete the two major roadways, but the government refused, with Minister of Works Lennox Weston, protesting that BHM could have started its work from the end where APUA had already completed burying the lines, instead of waiting for everything to be finished.
This led BHM to request an arbitration, which the Minister explained “we were in the middle of an arbitration; that arbitration should have ended by November. That arbitration would have provided some guidance, although one could appeal or go to the Privy Council.”
Surprisingly, Weston said that although the construction company brought the case against the government, when it was time for the adjudicator to return with a ruling, BHM put in a submission to ask for additional time for counter-arguments. Nonetheless, a settlement is expected to be reached some time in January 2020.
Weston, who had on several occasions threatened to fire BHM, told OBSERVER that in hindsight that may not be the best option.
“We have had discussions with the Caribbean Development Bank in terms of what will happen if we ever decide to fire them. The Caribbean Development Bank has said that we’ll have to go back to tender, open tender, and that process will take three to four months to get a new contractor in place, and so in the end, we’ll have to make an assessment at the end of December as to if they’re three months away from finishing or more than 3 months,” the minister explained.
However, in the meantime, the Works minister reiterated that the government will proceed with suing BHM for nonpayment.
“We will be moving to put a lawsuit on them for over $10 million for aggregates. They haven’t paid us a cent yet for all the aggregates they have taken from us,” he shared.
He described the situation as “an ongoing battle with a very difficult contractor whose modus operandi is one of utilising lawyers and throwing mud and hoping they can get additional money.”