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Road works delays sparked election fears

Extreme concern over the impact the lagging New Providence Road Improvement Project (NPRIP) would have on the upcoming general election, prompted the government to ramp up efforts to get the work completed, according to an August report of the disputes board set up to monitor and remedy concerns about the $113 million infrastructural upgrade.

“[Ministry of Public Works Permanent Secretary Collin] Higgs emphasized that the public had lost confidence in the project and frequent complaints were received from shopkeepers and businesses affected by the project,” wrote dispute’s board representative Peter H. J. Chapman after a site visit between July 25 and 27.

“Although some positive feedback was received from the public, this is outweighed by complaints.  Government was extremely concerned at the potential negative impact that the project may have on the general election scheduled for mid-2012.”

During the July site visit, Albert Gillings, engineering firm Mott McDonald’s resident engineer, raised the issue of public relations, Chapman said.

“[Public relations] is a matter for all involved in the project, when so much of the downtown area was severely disrupted by works being undertaken,” reported Chapman.

“Businesses were suffering and there was a pressing need for the public to be reassured that the end was in sight and the infrastructure improvements would be of lasting benefit.”

Chapman noted that Argentinian contractor Jose Cartellone Construcciones Civiles (JCCC) had reduced the labor force on the project in the months prior to the report “and the necessary productivity required to complete the project by mid-2012 (the currently proposed date for final completion) is not being achieved”.

“Permanent Secretary Higgs expressed his concern that the resources currently mobilized on the project were insufficient and urgent and significant steps were necessary to recover the present situation,” Chapman wrote.

“JCCC admitted that labor resources had been reduced as insufficient work was available to maintain the full complement of labor.  JCCC further stated that the increased resources in the first part of the year had not resulted in greater productivity and better progress, consequently labor had been laid off.”

Chapman went on to report that JCCC claimed the workforce had been reduced because there was a difficulty in acquiring plant (equipment to mix asphalt and other raw materials) and other small equipment.

JCCC noted that hiring more workers was not a problem, but the high cost of duties on plant imported from the United States and elsewhere was prohibitive, Chapman wrote.

“MOWT (Ministry of Works) suggested that bonding could be considered whereby lower importation taxes would be imposed conditional upon the eventual export of the plant,” said Chapman. “MOWT further stated that there might be means whereby customs duties could be further reduced by agreement with the relevant government department.”

Politics also motivated another major decision regarding the project last year, according to another report Chapman authored June 25, 2010.

“It has been agreed that for various reasons, not the least political, public relations requirements, that the Western Route (the new Bethel Avenue highway) would be opened to the public by 31st August 2010,” The report said.

“This was not a contractual milestone but JCCC had given assurances to government that this could be achieved and still believed this was possible.”

At the time, Chapman said he noted that a “significant amount of work was required” on one of the corridors to achieve this objective.

As previously reported exclusively by The Nassau Guardian, JCCC officials testified before the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) of the House of Assembly that the project would likely be complete by September 2012.

JCCC officials also indicated to the PAC that the project will eventually cost $154 million by the time of completion.

The final price represents cost overruns of more than $40 million above the $113 million the government borrowed in 2008 for ongoing works.

In fact, Ministry of Public Works officials estimated that the borrowed money will be completely expended by April 2012.

According to information obtained by The Guardian, the project was $23 million over budget as of June, due to new components to the project, unanticipated costs, delays in design and the rising price of raw materials.

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