School repairs ought to have been long addressed

The government’s orchestrated announcement that there will be an on-time opening of public schools this year is reminiscent of a cartoon making the rounds on social media.

The cartoon shows a mother responding to a child’s query of the need for a sign announcing “MEN AT WORK”. The mother replies: “Women work all the time. When men work they need to put up signs”.

It is unfortunate that even a promise that government-operated schools will be in condition to receive teachers and students at the beginning of the school years deserves a tour of the schools under repair by a contingent of many government officials, including Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis and Minister of Education Jeffrey Lloyd.

Pictures from the tour show exterior walls, roofs and second floor balconies at the schools in various stages of reconstruction and repair. Notwithstanding, Lloyd is quoted saying: “There is no such thing as not finishing on time.”

The smooth on-time opening of government schools which historically eclipsed us was largely resolved during the 1990s. Old habits reintroduced under two non-consecutive terms of the Christie-led governments over the past 15 years eliminated progress made and the record of the current administration so far has not served to improve the situation.

We are less than four weeks away from when teachers will begin reporting for duty and school buildings are missing walls and safe balconies!

The lack of organization, competence and predictability around the Ministry of Education’s and the Ministry of Public Works’ plans to keep government-operated schools in good repair is astounding.

The work shown in the pictures in Wednesday’s newspaper are not minor repairs to broken windows, replacement of a few plumbing fixtures or painting and landscape; these are major structural repairs.

The works show substantial and significant structural defects. These will have been visible for some time. They ought to have been scheduled for urgent attention some time ago. Indeed, it appears as if the school environment in those schools would not have been safe when school closed in June.

Reports reaching us indicate that some of the structural faults were identified several years ago but have been ignored over as many as six academic years. That contractors appear to be at the beginning of the various repair projects suggests that even at this stage contracts for repairs were issued late. This is inexcusable.

After the government’s inability to explain the no-bid contract issued for the multimillion-dollar renovation of Stephen Dillett Primary School last year, the minister of education informed the media that this year’s school repair bill will approximate $9 million.

There is a longstanding government policy requiring tendering for government work with six or seven figure values. This is so with few exceptions. Contract work left undone for years cannot be considered an exception to the rule for tendering public projects. Still, we are informed that the contracts for the school repair program for this year have been no-bid contracts issued to selected contractors at negotiated prices.

The opposition PLP has no credibility on the issue of no-bid contracts given its poor record in office.

It was expected that the FNM government would be different and better. So far, it has not proven to be so.

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