Don’t worry, we got a ‘good deal’

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When we wrote of our disappointment and sadness regarding the Cabinet’s current contemplation of implementing a rice and sugar monopoly, we told you that there were two things that were in the news recently that disturbed us.  The other one was the Barbuda runway contract.
In a previous piece on this matter, we expressed hope that the tender process would not be waived simply because we could not muster the remaining financing to add to the lease funds being prepaid by De Niro’s Paradise Found and DeJoria’s Peace Love & Happiness hotel projects. There were just too many rumours and questions swirling around the favoured contractors and their lobbyist(s) to just sweep this under the carpet in a tender-free process.
The propaganda from officialdom was that they were partial to a British company, based in the Bahamas, named BHM that had offered to provide the additional funds necessary to complete the runway.  Funds that we, as a nation, could not scrape together in order to preserve the semi-transparency of a tender.  Remember, we are not talking the entire airport, just the runway at this point in time.  
Shortly after that, we were informed that Cabinet had met with the Antigua and Barbuda Airport Authority (ABAA) to review and comment on “the 150-page proposal put forward by the BHM Company to construct the new Barbuda runway and apron.” The Cabinet briefing referred to the company as “the experienced BHM Company” and said that after a whole half-hour of discussions with ABAA, Cabinet invited BHM to join the discussions. 
According to the post-Cabinet briefing, “The BHM Company told of its many successes in the Bahamas, building runways on islands very much like Barbuda; it gave a rich history of its 33 years of experience in other countries, constructing runways, roadways, and other infrastructure.”  At this point, we wondered if we were reading an infomercial or a briefing.  Then there was an odd bit of wording.  The briefing stated, “The principal of the BHM Company pointed out that the design-build runway on Barbuda that it has proposed can be completed within one year — delays caused by acts of God excluded.  The Cabinet agreed …”   We could visualise the nodding heads and the beaming smiles of the BHM representatives as they probably pumped their fists and thought to themselves “This is in the bag!”
If that is what they thought, then they were right because a few days after the Cabinet meeting, the government signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the British company to build Barbuda’s new runway. The company is said to be doing it for the competitive, fixed price of US $15.9 million; just shy of EC $43 million.  All without a tender, which we are told is kind of mandatory for projects valued more than $20,000.  Kind of.
Not to worry though, the prime minister believes that the Bahamas-based company is able to provide the government such a “good deal”, for the “fixed price” of just US $15.9 million, because its equipment would already be in Antigua as part of the British funded road works project.  Whew!  That is good to know.  We guess the Barbuda runway deal is just gravy for them.  Thanks guys.
The prime minister also made another interesting comment that we are not sure the BHM company liked.  He intimated that there was a possibility that the Government would squash the MOU with BHM if another company stepped forward and offered something better.    But let’s hear from the PM himself.  He said, “A local company that has capacity is CO Williams.  If it comes to us before we sign the Memorandum of Agreement and says that it can offer a better price and the same terms and conditions in terms of credit, certain[ly], we can look at it.” Isn’t this like a tender but not really?  Wouldn’t we know exactly what CO Williams and others could have offered, if we had gone to tender before and not after we signed an MOU?
While the PM says that the nation got a “good deal” he does not appear to be convinced that we got the best deal. Hence, we presume, his cast towards CO Williams.  The ‘best deal’ is something that we would have had a better level of comfort about having achieved, if we had gone to tender.  You can now understand why the conspiracy theorists are all over this one. 
There is one final aspect to this and many other contracts, like this one, that is a pet peeve.  Why do we never make sure that our major infrastructure projects include mandatory skills and knowledge transfer?  If our people are never trained and get some minimal experience, they will never get a chance at a contract like this.  Heck, forget about airports, we will not be building lots of those, but just think in the area of roads.  It is why, when major contracts are available, locals are deemed unworthy of even a look.
That is sad, and the government should take steps to remedy the situation.  It is unfortunate that the default road builder in Antigua & Barbuda is from outside.  There are a lot of people and companies that can build roads but are not given the opportunity and in their minds, will never be given the opportunity – to the point where some just concede defeat.
So, if we are going to spend EC $43 million with a British company based in the Bahamas, let’s at least make sure that there is an aspect to the contract that formalises the need for skills exchange.  And, when it comes to all those local roads, let’s find some way to ensure that we have a group of contractors (as small as that group may be) that can employ the latest road building technologies and satisfy the local need. Spending state funds on profits that will ultimately be repatriated abroad is not the making of an economic powerhouse.
We invite you to visit www.antiguaobserver.com and give us your feedback on our opinions.

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