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Government ‘screwed up’ CDB funding for river defence project – Dr Friday

Government ‘screwed up’ CDB funding for river  defence project – Dr Friday
Dr Godwin Friday

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This country’s loss of funding from the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB) for river works at the Yarabaqua river is symptomatic of larger issues with the current government of St Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG).

This is the view of opposition leader, Dr Godwin Friday, who spoke extensively on the matter during the New Times radio programme yesterday.

“This says to me that the government basically has screwed up here. That here you have funding for what everyone would recognise as important works to be done and the basic criteria that’s set out for the funding were not followed,” the opposition leader said.

In a letter dated June 27, 2019, Alistair Campbell, this country’s acting chief engineer, informed the tenderers of a project meant to facilitate river defence works at the Yarabaqua River that the CDB had pulled its funding of the project.

This followed a letter of objection from Bally and Bally Investments Ltd, one of the tenderers who was unsuccessful in its bid for the project; the successful tenderer was Reliable Construction Ltd.

In the letter of objection, Cameron Balcombe, the managing director of Bally and Bally Investments Ltd alleged that there was either “a false declaration made in their forms or unlawful and unfair intervention by someone of influence on their behalf”.

Friday, on radio yesterday, referenced his colleague and former opposition leader, Arnhim Eustace who has also spoken on the matter. Eustace, who once worked as a senior manager at the CDB said it is a rare occurrence for the CDB to conduct investigations that lead to cancelling a contract and ordering the repayment of funds.

“Now this is a very very serious matter for us here in St Vincent and the Grenadines because what it says here for us is that the government has proven either its wilfulness or its incompetence in the manner in which it administers these very important contracts and use of monies…we spend here in St Vincent and the Grenadines by the CDB in this case and what I presume, other financiers in other contracts,” the opposition leader said.

Friday referenced a letter dated March 8, 2019, from the acting chief engineer to the managing director of Bally and Bally Investments Ltd saying that his concerns were noted and after an assessment of the contract by an independent company, the contract would remain unchanged.

The opposition leader said that this letter further drives home the corruption of the tendering process because of CDB’s decision to pull the contract, following their own investigations.

Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves, during a radio programme on Sunday, indicated the government’s intention to move forward with the river defence project with Reliable Construction Ltd, the firm that was initially awarded the tender, regardless of funding being rescinded by the CDB.

But Friday does not agree with this approach.

“First of all, I would think that the companies that were not permitted, that did not win the bid, that were all part of the tendering process, that they would have an interest in any new contract that is on offer. You don’t just simply say cancel one contract, the CDB has cancelled the financing and so therefore everything else remains the same,” Friday said.

The opposition leaders further said, “it means then that the government, if they are going to offer new contract, they have to change the terms under which this present contractor wins the bid because if they’re not qualified to win it as presented by the CDB and they are going to give it to the same contractor again, then what is it in this new contract will make them superior to the other tenderers who have been in the process?”

He said that the situation creates a serious problem for SVG in terms of its credibility as a country.

Friday further questioned the legitimacy of the Tenders board and accused the government of not conforming to the laws.

“Obviously what is being done here is not in conformity with the practice and law with respect to how tenders board should operate,” Friday said. “We have a situation where there is a lot of rhetoric talking about accountability that they are transparent and they are the most transparent when in fact this is the least transparent government we have ever had in this country and its turning out to be the most corrupt government we’ve had in this country and if they don’t want those labels, then they have to follow the regulations, they have to be able to present the information.”

The opposition leader also called for an inquiry into the situation, while questioning where the funds to finish the project will come from.

The river defence project at the Yarabaqua river, which is a part of the Natural Disaster Management Rehabilitation and Reconstruction project (December 2013 Trough Event Project) is estimated to cost over $1.4 million.

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