By Elesha George
Work has barely started on the multi-million-dollar second road rehabilitation project and already there is a legal battle over finances owed to a former worker.
Both the Ministry of Works and former Project Engineer, Kenrick Dookie, have contemplated taking the legal route to address the matter.
The ministry’s Permanent Secretary, Clarence Pilgrim, refused to comment stating that the issue is now a legal matter, while Works Minister, Lennox Weston, told Observer that the project office is reviewing Dookie’s claims, and with legal advice, will make a determination and will advise him on its decision.
Weston said that while Dookie was in fact hired on the project, his contract was not renewed. Instead, the job was given to an Antiguan engineer. He said the Project Implementation and Management Unit’s (PIMU) position is that Dookie “is not owed anything.”
Dookie on the other hand, told Observer that he is owed US$81,900 because the government broke a one-year contract for him to continue the project with the ministry’s Project Implementation and Management Unit (PIMU).
According to him, his contract was to be extended until January 2022, however, in September 2020, the ministry extended the contract for one year, and in December, it completely terminated the agreement.
It’s been five months since his abrupt termination, and Dookie said neither the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB) which disburses those funds, or the Ministry of Works, has addressed it, even after he sent an invoice to be paid for the remainder of his contractual year.
The Trinidadian man faces eviction from his home and told Observer he is strapped for cash since he was “suddenly terminated” last December and has been unable to secure work since.
Dookie said he was not told the reason for his termination, but he believes it is because he raised questions about the way the planned roadworks were being executed.
The engineer is claiming that the contractor, aided by MOW, were not complying with the original design and concept presented to the CDB, where he has also lodged a complaint for non-compliance of contract work with its Head Office of Integrity, Compliance and Accountability.
In his complaint, Dookie highlighted his concerns that the EC$63M road upgrade was being downsised and did not take into consideration climate resilience and access for persons who are disabled.
“The critical area of concern is the approval of payments contrary to the contract’s conditions,” he noted, explaining that there was no contractual justification for the dispensation of million of dollars already approved by the CDB.
He estimates that a total of $12 million was given to the project’s contractor without substantiation. The engineer is also claiming that critical parts of the project to include disability access, vendor laybys and hurricane resistant bus sheds have been omitted from the conceptual design.
“This defies all professional and ethical behaviour and can only be viewed as outright financial fraud,” Dookie said while addressing this and other concerns.
As a result, the engineer has asked the CDB to freeze all payments from the bank to the Government of Antigua and Barbuda under the Road Infrastructure Rehabilitation Project, and to conduct a full third-party audit on the disbursement of all funds and requirements under the loan agreement, among other requests.
The Works Minister said that if Dookie insists on making any false accusations against his ministry, then he will have to look at legal means to solve the problem. Meanwhile, the Ministry of Works is preparing to introduce the elements of the project via a virtual press conference on Thursday.