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The UDP’s obscene $8 million hustle

HeadlineThe UDP’s obscene $8 million hustle

BELIZE CITY, Mon. Oct. 16, 2017–With municipal elections slated for next March, the nation is again heading into political season. It is known that during these times, political parties are “scratching around” for campaign finances for their campaign machineries.

If you listen to the PUP, the VIP, and COLA, however, the party in power, the UDP, doesn’t have to “scratch” around, because they have their hands in the public coffers, which is to say, taxpayers’ pockets.

This is a “clear attempt to enrich select UDP Ministers and cronies and pad [the party’s] election coffers.” –the Opposition PUP

Well, to mix our metaphors, the UDP just plucked out a PetroCaribe-sized gob of grease to get their election motors oiled and rolling. That’s the view of these parties after Prime Minister Dean Barrow’s administration issued an almost 8-million-dollar contract to a UDP crony for a project, which, according to a statement issued by the Government of Belize on Thursday, is for rehabilitation, and drainage infrastructure improvement of 1.9 km or about 1.1 miles of Fabers Road in Port Loyola constituency, of which Hon. Anthony “Boots” Martinez is the area representative.

The winner of the contract, Imer Hernandez of Imer Hernandez Development Co. Ltd., is the nephew of disgraced former UDP Deputy Leader and Deputy Prime Minister, Gaspar Vega.

In a statement issued today, the Opposition PUP referred to the contract as a “grossly bloated” one in which there is, “no rational justification” for such exorbitant costs. The release further states that the conventional rule of thumb for routine reconstruction roadways is one million dollars per mile.

According to the PUP, with municipal elections just months away, this is a “clear attempt to enrich select UDP Ministers and cronies and pad [the party’s] election coffers.”

The PUP revealed that in 2016, Cisco Construction was awarded a contract for the rehabilitation of 3.5 miles of the Philip Goldson Highway, which included widening the entire road by 10 feet and the placements of lights and the construction of a heavy-duty retaining wall to stop the erosion of the riverbank. The money spent under this contract amounted to less than four million dollars per mile [for the 3.5 miles rehabilitation project], said the PUP, who went on to say that “it is beyond comprehension that routine works on one mile of Fabers Road would be almost double that.”

The party took shots at Minister of Works Rene Montero, who, it says, has been scrutinized for bloated contracts before. The release pointed to a short stretch of road in Santa Elena, from the Loma Luz Boulevard to the Hawkesworth Bridge, which cost tax payers almost seven million dollars.

The statement also referenced the construction of the new Santa Elena/San Ignacio Municipal Building, which was awarded to a company owned by Montero’s brother.

The PUP calls on social partners and other stakeholders to take a stand against “bloated contracts.”

On Friday, the Vision Inspired by the People (VIP) also issued a release, stating that the contract was awarded contrary to the Finance and Audit Reform Act.

According to the VIP, Section 19(5) of the Finance and Audit (Reform) Act 2005 provides that any procurement or sale contract above five million dollars shall be subject to the open tendering procedure. Under the open tendering procedure, the government shall ensure, among other things, that any conditions for participation: (a) are published in adequate time (b) are limited to those which are essential (c) do not discriminate against any applicable supplier and (d) are such that the process and time for application is not used to keep any applicable supplier from being considered.

According to this act, an unsuccessful supplier shall be notified in writing and given reasons why its bid was unsuccessful.

The VIP is of the view that the contract for the Fabers Road Rehabilitation goes against the expressed provisions of the act and must therefore be rescinded.

“Based on analysis of other recently completed contracts, the contract price is excessively inflated and therefore calls on the Association of Professional Engineers of Belize to independently examine the award and publicly issue its findings,” said the VIP.

On Friday, the Citizens Organized for Liberty Through Action (COLA), through its attorney Kareem Musa, under Chapter 13 of the Freedom of Information Act, issued a letter to Errol Gentle, CEO in the Ministry of Works, requesting access to the following documents: the contract for the project, all tenders submitted for consideration in the selective tendering exercise, and the consent of the Contractor General to the awarding of the contract.

With pressure mounting, the Government Press Office issued another release last week in which it stressed that the reconstruction of the Fabers Road includes not only one mile of reinforced concrete pavement, but also two miles of reinforced concrete sidewalk and side drains, and the installation of one mile of earthen drains from Krooman Road to the Caribbean Sea.

According to the statement, the contractor’s offer was consistent with estimates provided by an engineer.

Our newspaper could not reach the Contractor General, Errol Gentle, for a comment on the sizzling allegations made by the VIP and PUP. And so, as of press time tonight, it is still uncertain if Vega’s nephew had gone through a tendering process.

The Contractor General’s office is responsible for the oversight of the issuance and implementation of public contracts so as to ensure fair play.

For background information, we note that in the 2012-2013 annual report of the Auditor General, tabled in August 2017, the questionable relationship which the Ministry of Works had with two companies — Special Effects and Special Effects Performance — came to light.

The Audit Department did a routine inspection of the accounting records and associated documents for contracts with the Ministry of Works for the period 2009-2013. The United Democratic Party administration came to power in 2008 and was re-elected to power in March 2012.

Anthony ‘Boots’ Martinez was the Minister of Works for the former period, but Rene Montero assumed the portfolio in March 2012.

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