Fabers Road in Belize City is an important thoroughfare - it's an alternate route to the Western Highway, especially for those trucks hauling containers to the Port of Belize on Caesar Ridge Road.
It was last paved 19 years ago - and today, it's all broken up, to the point that, in some parts, is almost unfit for driving, especially after intense rains.
Well, now, Faber's Road - or at least a part of it - is going to get a multimillion dollar makeover. The Ministry of Works today signed a contract with popular UDP contractor the Imer Hernandez Development Company for the "reconstruction" of a one mile portion of Faber's road.
And while it may only be a hair more than a mile being reconstructed, the contract is for almost 8 million dollars. A press release from the Government says that 7.995 million will be used for roadway clearance, including the removal of any remnant structures, obstructions, fencing and the like within the road reserve; earthworks; construction of reinforced concrete box drains, sidewalks with roadside curbs and runoff channels; and pavement rehabilitation including the construction of a rigid concrete pavement.
The release also says that it was put out to tender, and Imer Hernandez's company won the bid, since his offer was consistent with the engineer's estimate.
The press was not invited to a signing ceremony in Belmopan today led by Works Minister Rene Montero, Port Loyola Area Rep Anthony "Boots" Martinez, and Imer Hernandez. They only called the government press office, and here's what the two government ministers had to say:
Hon. Rene Montero - Minister of Works "It is important - very important and strategic because it is in the Southside of Belize City. We are committed to improving the city, because it is still the commercial center of this country."
Hon. Anthony "Boots" Martinez - Port Loyola Area Representatives "This Faber's Road is about my constituency. The Port of Belize sits in my constituency, and that is the main artery for the cargo going out to the districts, and coming in to go to the port. And especially with the Lake Independence Boulevard, linking Chetumal Street, it a main traffic area for the cargo going in and out from the Port."
According to our records, the last contract to "rehabilitate" Faber's Road was completed by CISCO Construction in 1998.
The value of that contract was just 1.86 million dollars for 1.6 miles of a 2-lane bitumen surface road, including 115 culverts. 20 years later, this contract is 8 million dollars for a little more than a mile.
PM Defends, Explains, Expands On Faber's Road Contract
This afternoon all the media's attention was focused on the Prime Minister at a two hour press conference called to defend the controversial contract for the reconstruction of Faber's Road.
It's been all over the news for the past week, ever since we first questioned how could it be that government is paying 8 million dollars to pave 1.1. Miles of Faber's Road. That released an avalanche of criticism from COLA, the VIP, and the PUP.
Well, today the Prime Minister held a press conference - not to announce that public pressure is forcing government to rescind the contract, but to explain that it's much more than just one mile of road. To do so, he brought in the Ministry of Works project engineer who gave a half an hour masters class on the finer details of engineering - complete with diagrams. Here's a super compressed version of how they explained it:..
Rt. Hon. Dean Barrow - Prime Minister "We hope today to set the record straight and demonstrate what a fine, necessary, above-board project this is, how it will employ 200 south side people, inject new economic life into marginalized communities and greatly improve transportation and cost efficiencies, especially for exporters using the Belize City Port. I will ask Mr. Moody, who was involved in the design of the project from 6 years or so ago, when it was first conceived, to come and tell you exactly what the scope of works entails so that you and the public can understand that you're talking about miles and miles. The carriageway on Faber's Road is 1.7 miles almost but in terms of the lined canal that is being built from Crewman Lagoon to go all the way to the sea so that those people don't have to go through what they went through on the last occasion when there was flooding and the hurricane and the deputy prime minister had to be scrambling to see how he could help, so that that sort of thing doesn't happen again. The reinforced concrete drains, the sidewalks, he will break down for you the details of the project give you the scope of works so that anybody, who is at all reasonably, will understand that the costing that has been come up with, far from being inflated or bloated, is perfectly reasonable with what you are getting."
Evondale Moody - Project Engineer, Project Execution Unit, MOW "So when you add those four items together, the road, the concrete, drains and the outfall canal, the preliminary and the generally, you get $7.1 million dollars, easy. I don't see how people could be saying that they could do it for $3.5 and $4 and $5. Honestly, I really don't know. I need them to come and tell me and justify to me how you can come up with that figure. No matter which contractor you ask and I would suggest that you ask a reputable contractor, don't ask any old contractor. Honestly, I'm just being real. Those are the facts. There is nothing that we have blown out of proportion. So, looking at that, that is $7.1 and normally we add in 10% contingencies. The contingencies must be authorized by the engineer, can't be spent just like that, but it's for items that we don't foresee; and that is always the case. For every project, every single project that we've had, we've had items that we've missed out because we are only human. So, I have to include the 10%. So, 10% of $7.1 million is $710 thousand. $710 thousand plus $7.1 million takes you around $7.9, which is what the guy bid. I need someone, based on the news, to let me know how they can do it for cheaper. And this pavement is nothing like the mayor of Belize has done on the other streets. We are at a different level. He has done 4 inch, 5 inch; we are at a different level, complete. And this is some of the stuff that I've learned from Mr. Puga. I've been with him 19 years this year and we've implemented all these projects for the government, both governments, and we have to report to the government and we have to report to the funding agencies. We have to do audit. So, we have to be scrutinized. We are at a high standard, we don't deal with low standards."
Engineer explains specifics of Fabers Road project
According to Prime Minister Dean Barrow, the reconstruction of Fabers Road was considered as an urgent project due to its importance. The first group to voice its concerns was Citizens Organized for Liberty through Action, COLA who has requested the details of the contract and today Chartered Engineer who designed the project, Evondale Moody, shared the specifics of the project.
The UDP's obscene $8 million hustle
With municipal elections slated for next March, the nation is again heading into political season. It is known that during these times, political parties are "scratching around" for campaign finances for their campaign machineries.
If you listen to the PUP, the VIP, and COLA, however, the party in power, the UDP, doesn't have to "scratch" around, because they have their hands in the public coffers, which is to say, taxpayers' pockets.
This is a "clear attempt to enrich select UDP Ministers and cronies and pad [the party's] election coffers." -the Opposition PUP
Well, to mix our metaphors, the UDP just plucked out a PetroCaribe-sized gob of grease to get their election motors oiled and rolling. That's the view of these parties after Prime Minister Dean Barrow's administration issued an almost 8-million-dollar contract to a UDP crony for a project, which, according to a statement issued by the Government of Belize on Thursday, is for rehabilitation, and drainage infrastructure improvement of 1.9 km or about 1.1 miles of Fabers Road in Port Loyola constituency, of which Hon. Anthony "Boots" Martinez is the area representative.
The winner of the contract, Imer Hernandez of Imer Hernandez Development Co. Ltd., is the nephew of disgraced former UDP Deputy Leader and Deputy Prime Minister, Gaspar Vega.
In a statement issued today, the Opposition PUP referred to the contract as a "grossly bloated" one in which there is, "no rational justification" for such exorbitant costs. The release further states that the conventional rule of thumb for routine reconstruction roadways is one million dollars per mile.
According to the PUP, with municipal elections just months away, this is a "clear attempt to enrich select UDP Ministers and cronies and pad [the party's] election coffers."
The PUP revealed that in 2016, Cisco Construction was awarded a contract for the rehabilitation of 3.5 miles of the Philip Goldson Highway, which included widening the entire road by 10 feet and the placements of lights and the construction of a heavy-duty retaining wall to stop the erosion of the riverbank. The money spent under this contract amounted to less than four million dollars per mile [for the 3.5 miles rehabilitation project], said the PUP, who went on to say that "it is beyond comprehension that routine works on one mile of Fabers Road would be almost double that."
The party took shots at Minister of Works Rene Montero, who, it says, has been scrutinized for bloated contracts before. The release pointed to a short stretch of road in Santa Elena, from the Loma Luz Boulevard to the Hawkesworth Bridge, which cost tax payers almost seven million dollars.
The statement also referenced the construction of the new Santa Elena/San Ignacio Municipal Building, which was awarded to a company owned by Montero's brother.
The PUP calls on social partners and other stakeholders to take a stand against "bloated contracts."
On Friday, the Vision Inspired by the People (VIP) also issued a release, stating that the contract was awarded contrary to the Finance and Audit Reform Act.
According to the VIP, Section 19(5) of the Finance and Audit (Reform) Act 2005 provides that any procurement or sale contract above five million dollars shall be subject to the open tendering procedure. Under the open tendering procedure, the government shall ensure, among other things, that any conditions for participation: (a) are published in adequate time (b) are limited to those which are essential (c) do not discriminate against any applicable supplier and (d) are such that the process and time for application is not used to keep any applicable supplier from being considered.
According to this act, an unsuccessful supplier shall be notified in writing and given reasons why its bid was unsuccessful.
The VIP is of the view that the contract for the Fabers Road Rehabilitation goes against the expressed provisions of the act and must therefore be rescinded.
"Based on analysis of other recently completed contracts, the contract price is excessively inflated and therefore calls on the Association of Professional Engineers of Belize to independently examine the award and publicly issue its findings," said the VIP.
On Friday, the Citizens Organized for Liberty Through Action (COLA), through its attorney Kareem Musa, under Chapter 13 of the Freedom of Information Act, issued a letter to Errol Gentle, CEO in the Ministry of Works, requesting access to the following documents: the contract for the project, all tenders submitted for consideration in the selective tendering exercise, and the consent of the Contractor General to the awarding of the contract.
With pressure mounting, the Government Press Office issued another release last week in which it stressed that the reconstruction of the Fabers Road includes not only one mile of reinforced concrete pavement, but also two miles of reinforced concrete sidewalk and side drains, and the installation of one mile of earthen drains from Krooman Road to the Caribbean Sea.
According to the statement, the contractor's offer was consistent with estimates provided by an engineer.
Our newspaper could not reach the Contractor General, Errol Gentle, for a comment on the sizzling allegations made by the VIP and PUP. And so, as of press time tonight, it is still uncertain if Vega's nephew had gone through a tendering process.
The Contractor General's office is responsible for the oversight of the issuance and implementation of public contracts so as to ensure fair play.
For background information, we note that in the 2012-2013 annual report of the Auditor General, tabled in August 2017, the questionable relationship which the Ministry of Works had with two companies - Special Effects and Special Effects Performance - came to light.
The Audit Department did a routine inspection of the accounting records and associated documents for contracts with the Ministry of Works for the period 2009-2013. The United Democratic Party administration came to power in 2008 and was re-elected to power in March 2012.
Anthony 'Boots' Martinez was the Minister of Works for the former period, but Rene Montero assumed the portfolio in March 2012.
Something I have not read Did anyone else even put is a bid on this contract or was it totally private and no one else was allowed to bid? Cisco, if they were allowed to bid would not have bid that high at all
And going back briefly to the issue of the 8 million dollar Faber's Road contract. The Prime Minister and the Ministry of Works Engineer went to lengths yesterday to illustrate that the road works and related drainage and canals are worth all those millions.
But what about not putting it out to open tender? Instead they sued the selective Tendering process. The leader of the opposition has written to the PM saying that the Finance and Reform audit act require it to be put to open tender. Here's how the Prime Minster addressed that yesterday:..
Rt. Hon. Dean Barrow - Prime Minister "Now, those of you who say even in getting approval or forget the getting of approval - that no matter what, you should have taken this to the open tender procedure. When we check with the engineers, the open tender procedure takes between 90 and 130 days. If we had gone to do that we would have undercut the very argument we were making that we need to proceed on the basis of urgency."
"I could see the people say you will finish phase one in 6 months. So the open tender procedure will, might as well wait the 2 months and we follow then the rules and you do phase 3 and Faber's Road when it is schedule to be done. So I don't see how anybody can quarrel with the fact that because this was, is a matter of urgency we proceeded by way of the shortest possible route which is the limited tender procedure."
Well that answers that. They have known for over a year the work needed to be done but never put out to bid, just give it to a relative and call it an emergency and pay 8 million dollars. Some things never change here!