Editorial: Time and money

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We cast our minds back to happier times … May 2014. A time when the nation was happy to hear that the Government was expected to pay less than the estimated $23 million to complete the headquarters for the Antigua & Barbuda Department of Marine Services & Merchant Shipping (ADOMS). Back then, as is the case now, there were many that did not understand the need for such a building so they were happy for some forecasted savings.
The revelation, at the time, was made by the project and construction manager, Wendell Marshall, who said that up until that point, less than the projected budget had been expended. Specifically, he said, “We’ve been under budget on all of our individual costs to date and we do value engineering to make sure that we look at how we can keep that cost below budget.” He even said that the budget entailed a contingency plan with funds that will result in savings if they are not needed. Yippee!
Not only that, the three-storey structure, which broke ground just about a year earlier, was forecasted to be completed before the deadline. After all, the project was reportedly 12 days ahead of schedule and finishing a month early could be achieved. A May 2015 timeline was given for the construction phase and credit for the speedy work was given to Harrigan Building Construction and their team of employees. Under budget and ahead of schedule?
Wow! Oh happy days!
Except, everyone spoke too soon. Fast forward to November 2015, long after the expected deadline had passed and the tune had changed. Mr. Marshall was back before the public, saying, “we are hopeful and we are expecting it to be done between 10-12 months.” The project had been plagued with delays but there was a feeling of confidence that it would be smooth sailing going forward.
In Marshall’s words, “We have overcome some of our issues which have led to delays; they have all been resolved at this point and we are looking very positive going forward.” The reason for the lengthy and numerous delays was apparently the process of awarding contracts – with a separate contractor being used for each phase of the project and each having to be put out to tender.
This is where the disconnect comes in because the blame goes to a process which was known and which was under government’s control. How can you blame the delays on the processes you implement and oversaw for the project you manage? Why, for example, wasn’t the tendering process for all the phases done at the same time? And knowing the process, why wasn’t it built into the time budget?
Now, after all the time and money overruns, the question that must be asked is: where is the accountability?
Conspiracy theorists are saying that based on the time and money that have been spent (a.k.a. wasted), someone will get a raise or promotion out of this. But in all seriousness, how do we go over budget by $8 million (using the current $25 million budget) and years beyond the original estimated date of completion and nothing more than an expression of dissatisfaction from Cabinet? To be fair, that is a perception. Maybe Cabinet is doing more but we don’t know.
Now we are hearing of new excuses related to the most recent delay. “Challenges related to water runoff during rainfall, and the thickness of the concrete that paves the parking apron” are to blame, we are told. Really? What happened to the engineering that was so highly valued in the early phase of construction? How were these two issues not engineered into the plans? Anywhere you build in Antigua requires you to consider and plan water management so how did it become such a huge problem?
There is an extremely long list of questions that need answering by those that initiated this project, those that planned it and those that have managed the overspend and delays. We cannot allow millions of dollars to go “poof” and there is no accounting.
We are happy that the Cabinet has realised that the situation is unacceptable and we look forward to the “full public disclosure” as promised by Minister Nicholas on behalf of the Cabinet. We cannot accept any lame excuses for an $8 million dollar overspend on a $25 million dollar budget. Similarly, we need to truly understand how an 18-month project ends up being extended to almost 60 months. It is mind blowing.
Let us all hope that this will be the time that we learn from our mistakes. Our resources are too scarce and precious to be wasted like this. Think of what the Ministry of Education or the Police could do with $8 million – or just about any other department or agency for that matter.
We invite you to visit www.antiguaobserver.com and give us your feedback on our opinions.

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