By Elesha George
The Minister of Works and Minister of State in the Ministry of Finance and Corporate Governance, Lennox Weston, is accusing Bahamas Hot Mix (BHM) of deliberately delaying completion of the Road Rehabilitation Project, claiming “they came with the professional intent of using change of work orders for their own benefitable gain”.
BHM was awarded the contract for Friars Hill Road and the Sir George Walter Highway during the first quarter of 2017, with the expectation that work would be completed in less than two years.
BHM beat Barbados’ CO Williams Construction Limited and Jamaica’s Surrey Paving and Aggregate Co Ltd, to win the road bid for US $14,992,213.06. The roadwork was expected to begin on September 27th, 2017 and last for 20 months, according to the contract award information published by caribank.org – Caribbean Development Bank (CDB).
But last week, and approximately two years after the start date, BHM’s Public Relations Officer, Vickindra Simon gave yet another timeline of September 2020 for final work to be completed. The company explained that it expects that by June 2020, asphalt and paving on the Friars Hill Road would be finished, followed by paving of the Sir George Walter Highway by September 2020.
However, Minister Weston and — it would seem — the rest of the Cabinet ministers are of the opinion that the construction delay is due to BHM’s “own corporate interest”.
“It has been a disaster and they have set out to make it a disaster because some corporations seek to have adjustments in contracts for their benefit. It’s something they do deliberately and so our position is that Antiguans and Barbudans should have smooth access to Friars Hill Road and airport road by December,” Weston said.
“I can tell you, the Caribbean Development Bank, very few places will ever, ever shortlist the company again for any kind of work based on its quality of work in Antigua Barbuda. “
At present, BHM and the Government of Antigua and Barbuda are in arbitration over whether the Bahamas company reasonably requested more time and money to complete the road rehabilitation project, or whether, according to the Weston, the delays were BHM’s fault and therefore no remuneration would be required on the part of the government.
“They have passed their deadline. We are in dispute now, in arbitration, because of course they are providing some basis in terms of delays from APUA, they have some issues that they claim that we didn’t accept their design because they didn’t want to change the size of the drain and so on. Those are some technical matters that we are gonna have arbitration over, but the point is they sat still and left the road in the very rough, rough state for most of the contract period,” he explained.
The minister estimated that the first arbitration could take “several years of legal wrangling” with BHM.
Meanwhile, Weston said that neither he, nor anyone else, should believe that the roads, given their current condition, could not be paved and the majority of the work be completed by year’s end.
He again insisted that BHM will only have until the end of December 2019, to complete major work on the two highways currently under construction.
During OBSERVER media’s Big Issues Programme on Sunday, the Works Minister reiterated the threat to fire the construction company if it fails to meet the December deadline.
“We told them we’re going to fire them if they don’t finish the roads by December…once we have nice, clear, flat, smooth roads by December, we’re fine. If we don’t, they’re gone”, Weston stoked.
In fact, he said “the only reason we didn’t fire them before was because it was grant financing from the British, and to fire them as early as then, when we should have fired them, we would have lost $14 million dollars of grant money.”
OBSERVER reached out to Vickindra Simon, BHM’s Public Relations Officer concerning the utterances but the company has chosen not to make any statements at this time.