More Bickering Over Costly GPH Rehab Project
And of course the George Price Highway Rehabilitation Project was among the discussion topics. That's the project with the $14 million additional financing from the Inter-American Development Bank including construction of a new Roaring Creek Bridge. As admitted by Minister of Works Rene Montero in the House on Friday, monies are needed at least in part for acquisition of lands in the area to widen the road. But Business Senator Mark Lizarraga harshly criticized the complete handling of the project by the Government, including paying extra monies for a re-design of the bridge and shading the true purpose of the loan. Leader of Government Business Godwin Hulse responded that the protocols put in place for the management of the project are intact - it's just the estimates that were wrong.
Mark Lizarraga, Senator - Business Community
"I came in possession of a document from one of the supervising companies which is a firm IMC out of England and when they identified that the 2 million plans that we paid for were not good, they were dangerous and a host of other things. They identify savings that we were going to have saving by what they called value engineering. So were certainly expecting to see the cost go down, not go up. Wouldn't that have been nice? Because the original bridge was on unsafe and over design in some aspects. A local firm was tasked with the redesigned and it appeared, certainly from the report that I saw that there were going to be substantial savings. So that again was a shock for me to see that now rather than a savings, the cost has gone up for those things that were mentioned in the motion which we brought up inside and certainly this thing about land acquisition just come out of left field, because it certainly in none of the documents that we saw."
Godwin Hulse, UDP Senator
"The estimates were wrong."
"That's what the report says."
Godwin Hulse, UDP Senator, Leader of Gov't Business
"That also is not correct. Estimates were wrong because there were lots of things that were not taken into consideration and there was a lot of work done after the design, after the estimates. They didn't take into consideration a lot of things that should happen to get it the way it should be. I want to get to the other point. It is not fair to suggest that as Senator Thompson said that this is some hustle. Let us not take on to ourselves the responsibility to be the engineers. There are people in the ministry. They are competent people. They are people with character and dignity and you cannot go through and be disparaging them and laughing at them. That's not right. I could take all the criticism, but those people in the Ministry of Works and I have a lot of engagement with them. Yes, there are some complaints. There are people in every ministry, heads of department that is under all kinds of pressure and its not everybody that is that meticulous."
The motion went to a division on the second reading which went along party lines, seven to six in favour with Churches Senator Ashley Rocke casting the tying vote, ahead of a third reading later in the session. But there was much discussion about the new revelations made by Senator Lizarraga this morning, including that costs on the road that will now top up to 81 million dollars could have been reduced. Government Senator Aldo Salazar contended that it didn't really matter, while Anthony Mahler, sitting in for Eamon Courtenay, said he could not see how the I.D.B. could entrust their monies to a crew who apparently cannot manage well.
Aldo Salazar, UDP Senator
"As far as I know we are dealing with an international lending organization, the IDB. They have certain approved contractor to do certain things. They go by international standards. A lot of times people in Belize cannot qualify to do certain things. Say a bridge design, I'm guessing. In order for you to qualify you have has to design 20 bridges before, you have had to done this X, Y and Z. There is significant standards before you can qualify, before you can even pre-qualify to submit a design for these sorts of things when you are dealing with an international lending organization. That design as far as I understand was sent out, a considerable cost, yes, but it was sent to a qualified bridge designer. That has nothing to do with the government of Belize. The selection of that designer wasn't done by the government of Belize. So if there was a mistake with the design, that's not the government's fault."
Anthony Mahler, PUP Senator
"What I am hearing from the other side is that we in Belize supposed to take what we get from the IDB? So it's like you go in Footlocker and you know your foot is size 11 and you want to buy a tennis or a shoes and they are telling you to wear a size 8. The bridge drop short and then they says that okay. No man, that is craziness. Guess who is paying for these works, it's the Belizean people. Not IDB and I could tell you from experience that we've in Belize have put IDB in check before. Not because they say they are right, they are right. No man. This is nonsense."
$14 Million More for Rehabilitation of George Price Highway
There were fireworks in Senate today on two matters that required ratification to pass. First, last week in the House, the Government passed a motion to borrow fourteen million dollars more from the International Development Bank for the George Price Rehabilitation project. That loan is to top off another fifty-four million dollars borrowed back in 2015 for the same project which involves the paving of twenty miles of highway from the Roaring Creek Bridge to the Hawkesworth Bridge in Santa Elena. During the House meeting, the government side, namely Minister of Works Rene Montero and Prime Minister Dean Barrow, said that the monies were for the reclamation of land along the highway. It passed in the House though questions were raised about the additional funding. When it went to the upper chamber today, five days later, the purpose of the money was different even though it was said that it falls well within the category of social mitigation. For context, we share what PM Barrow told the House.
Prime Minister Dean Barrow [File: November 23rd, 2018]
“The Minister of Works has answered. You know how it is Madam Speaker. You believe that in acquiring properties that you need in order to widen the roadway that you can negotiate reasonable prices from the land owners. Of course it never, ever turns out that way. People have you over a barrel. They know that you must acquire their lands and they insist on getting prices for that acquisition that any reasonable person would consider extortionate but so it is.”
Mark Lizarraga, Senator for Business Community
“There’s the matter that in the House, it was announced that this money was to reclaim land, to pay for land. But the documents that we receive in the senate do not agree with that. The documents state that they are for different things, different expenses: administration, relocating of poles, civil works, etcetera which we had already approved monies for those long ago. So had the piece of legislation come—the bill that’s before us, the motion before us—had that come and said for land reclamation, then we could have asked where’s the land, where are you buying it; get some sort of response. But there’s confusion it seems between what the prime minister has said, what the minister had said in the House and what we are seeing today before us. So that is concerning. Eight hundred thousand for administration, moving of light poles. Well the road is not longer so why are we moving more light poles? You would have expected that that would be dealt with in the first loan of fifty-odd dollars. So it just wreaks of a disorganized approach; I just wreaks of to me, poor management, poor planning.”
Valerie Woods, P.U.P. Senator
“I am a little bit confused now. At first, at least in the reading of the papers I got, referred to civil works and maintenance, but I see my colleague Senator Salazar is saying almost definitively that the reason for the overruns is for land acquisition. My understanding, having checked with the financial secretary, that loan moneys really ought not to be used for land acquisitions and so I think that the difficulty that we are having and that Senator Lizarraga has expressed in his research is to identify specifically what really is the overruns that have occurred that has resulted in a fourteen-million-dollar additional expense on a project that had gone through some thorough research, thorough design to ensure that we would not have been in this position.”
Senator Valerie Woods also questioned who will oversee that the loan contract is transparent because a contractor general has still not been named.
Where are the Details of the Multimillion-Dollar Contract?
Even so, the loan was approved by a majority of senators this afternoon. Most of the road is still under repair and the Roaring Creek Bridge is incomplete. The new loan brings the total cost of the road rehabilitation project to over eighty million Belize dollars. Private sector Senator Mark Lizarraga says that there is need for transparency and accountability on the part of the government since substantive savings were expected from the initial loan in 2015. Lizarraga also contended that he will make good on an offer by Attorney General and senate colleague, Michael Peyrefitte to be given access to the details of contracts.
Mark Lizarraga, Senator for Business Community
“We haven’t even seen a portion of the road completed. We’ve seen works on maybe four miles, if that; works have begun. And already we are asking for more money. To compound it, I came in possession of a document from one of the supervising companies, IMC out of England, and when they identified that the two million dollar plans that we had paid for were not good—they were dangerous and a whole host of other things—they identified savings. That we were going to have savings by what they call value engineering. So we were certainly expecting to see the cost go down; not go up. Wouldn’t that have been nice? The Contractor General has said that the government has an obligation to provide us with the contracts—not only the loan contracts, but the contracts for the actual projects, which we have never seen. So today, as a legislator, I can’t say how many lanes that bridge will have in Roaring Creek. I can’t tell you how many lanes the road will have. I can’t tell you anything about how we are spending your eighty-one million dollars. I am sorry I can’t. So yes, that is less than accountable, that is less than transparent. And this government came to power promising transparency and accountability in the spending of the people’s money. Is that too much to ask?”
Michael Peyrefitte, U.D.P. Senator
“Any senator in this senate who does not have the information that they say they want, they really don’t want that information. But it is convenient to come here and give the public the impression like this is some Gestapo government running with so much secrets behind closed doors; no man. No man; if you wanted a contract for this, contract for that; if it exists sir, you are entitled to have it not just as a Belizean and member of the public, but indeed a member of the Upper House. Whatever is the argument on the merits, whatever, whatever Mister President. That is fine. But I am tired of hearing senators saying that they don’t have access to information.”