The Construction firm, Courtney Benn Contracting Services Ltd is now under the radar after it was revealed on Wednesday that the firm was overpaid some $120.6M for preparatory works for upgrading of the East Coast Demerara Highway from La Bonne Intention to Beterverwagting.
The total upgrade was pegged at $349M with the company receiving its first payment at the end of December 2013.
However, by the time it was all over, the Government of Guyana realized that the company received more than the agreed total and began making efforts to recoup the overpayment.
By the end of 2016, the company owed the Government $110M.
The contractor was written to make restitution of the outstanding debt in September 2019 and again in January 2020.
According to the Ministry of Public Works, the contractor did not respond. The Ministry stated that it is continuing to implore the contractor to pay the outstanding sum which presently stands at $100M. The last payment was received in December 2017.
The revelation was made during the examination of the Auditor’s General Report for the Ministry of Public Works for the year 2016 in the Public Accounts Committee.
Engineer attached to the Ministry – Nigel Erskine explained that the overpayment came about as a result of a revision in the scope of works.
He said when the contract was awarded, it included the construction of concrete revetment on the northern side of the road, however, when the project got underway, there were some difficulties in procuring the requisite material.
That led to a revision of the contract to allow for the use of Timber revetment. The Timber revetment is much cheaper than concrete, thus resulting in the overpayment.
The Engineer could not immediately state when the revision was done and this led Opposition Member of Parliament Ganesh Mahipaul to surmised that it is unacceptable that the contractor was overpaid such a huge sum and a proper answer could not be provided.
Permanent Secretary Vladmin Persaud said the Attorney General has been written to on the issue and for action on the matter. Letters were also sent to the contractor multiple times.
“Four times in 2017, three times in 2018, two times in 2019 and again in 2020. Additionally, we have also written in 2021 requesting that the contractor make restitution however, he has not done so”, the Permanent Secretary has revealed.
In 2013 and 2014, advance payments were made to the contractor totaling over $260M representing 76% of the contract sum.
Permanent Secretary at the time, Balraj Balram was asked why the contractor was given 76% advance payment. He said he could not provide an answer at this time since he is not in receipt of all of the information.
He said too that all payments unauthorized by him at that time were based on the engineer’s evaluation.
The current Permanent Secretary said since he assumed office, he has taken a decision to cease all contracts with regards to the contractor, since there are other similar cases.
The Ministry of Public Works is now looking at legal action and a possible move to block the contractor from future government contracts.