By Caribbean News Now contributor
CASTRIES, St Lucia -- In a press release on Thursday, Silas Wilson, the executive assistant to Saint Lucia’s deputy prime minister and minister of infrastructure, port services and transport, rejected allegations made by a former minister that the ministry is engaged in issuing direct awards and not utilizing a tendering approach, saying that the former minister lacks the credibility to make such accusations.
On Tuesday, the former minister of communications and works Guy Joseph in an interview carried on local television insinuated that the ministry of infrastructure, port services and transport is engaged in a big racket and has engaged in issuing direct awards and not utilizing the tendering approach. He also suggested that the government is withholding information.
“Guy Joseph should be the last individual to insinuate that rackets are being conducted in the current ministry. His record and stewardship while he was a minister of that ministry shows that, in the five years he served as minister, his family received nearly $3 million in direct award contracts. The record also shows that his sister was a witness to an almost $10 million direct award contract... and for which this contractor received an advance payment certificate of over $1. 2 million and a further $600,000 in mobilization even before any work had started,” Wilson said.
In a press release dated February 25, 2014, the deputy prime minister and minister of infrastructure sought to clarify issues regarding the award of the contract for the construction of a controversial bridge that recently collapsed while concrete was being poured and, Wilson said, the minister wished to reiterate the process that led to the award of this contract, and to refute some of the statements made by Joseph.
At the February 13 sod turning ceremony for the bridge, the minister, Philip J. Pierre, made the following statement: “Prior to the award of the contract, five contractors with detailed knowledge of prevailing site conditions were invited to submit quotations; following which, a detailed technical review was undertaken by a technical team of the ministry. Those contractors were later on interviewed by that technical team, following which the successful contractor was selected.”
The minister went on to state that no instructions were given by any politician to the technical team on the choice of the contractor for this bridge.
“This is quite contrary to Guy Joseph’s involvement in the award of the WASCO/Ravine Poisson contract for which the taxpayers of Saint Lucia paid nearly $200,000 more than the estimates provided by WASCO engineers in 2010,” Wilson said.
While the contractor for the bridge has a long history of such projects on behalf of the government of Saint Lucia that spans almost two decades and has also successfully undertaken work financed by the Caribbean Development Bank on behalf of the government of Saint Lucia, Wilson called on Joseph to explain what experience Asphalt and Mining had before they arrived in Saint Lucia to have received in less than three years direct awards with a value exceeding $30,000,000.
In commenting on the exchange, Melanius Alphonse, a spokesman for the Lucian People’s Movement (LPM), said that, while Wilson was justified in attacking Joseph for his incompetence while in office in relation to contract awards and business affiliations, this was nevertheless a case of the pot calling the kettle black, since the same criticisms may be leveled at the Saint Lucia Labour Party (SLP) government.
“Credibility, trust and building relationships go to the core of business. Neither administration has passed the test sufficiently to cement a development model for Saint Lucia that exemplifies newness in type and quality and to capture the country’s unique national identity,” he said.
Alphonse questioned Wilson’s own credibility, asking whose was at stake, since he (Wilson) claimed that the contractor responsible for the bridge collapse has a two-decade history of undertaking such projects.
Alphonse pointed out that the acting chief engineer in the ministry of infrastructure said that an inspection by a technical support team concluded that the weight of concrete and the pressure with which it was being poured caused vertical supports for the casting of the concrete deck of the Demailley (Fond Coolie) Bridge to sag.
The Demailley Bridge is one of three ALBA-funded projects, and will cost an estimated $1.7 million, and yet the first bridge is compromised, Alphonse said.
“Whose credibility is at stake?” he asked.
“You understand why the social and economic development of Saint Lucia is at stake. No amount of party ideology can correct that,” he concluded.