By TANEKA THOMPSON
Tribune News Editor
WORKS Minister Desmond Bannister outlined the litany of problems that have plagued construction at Bahamas Agriculture and Marine Science Institute, including the fact that “sinkholes” were found early on the work site resulting in many buildings having to be relocated.
Mr Bannister told the House of Assembly last night that the former government did not undertake a geo-tech study of the area, and as a result these sinkholes were only found after excavation for foundations were carried out.
He also shed light on the financial difficulties the project incurred under the previous government, saying “cash flow” problems arose with contractors in September 2014, shortly after the project started.
He also deplored the fact that the Christie administration did not take legal action against the contractor for the uninsured male dormitory at BAMSI, which was destroyed by fire in January 2015. He said the government has paid out more than $2m to the contractor—Audley Hanna of Paradigm Construction.
Mr Bannister also revealed that Mr Hanna, whose name he did not call in the House, claimed to the government that he owed subcontractors nearly $300,000 more than what these companies said were due to them. In a case of “misfeasance,” he said the former administration offered to pay more than $200,000 to these subcontractors.
“The BAMSI project has been a sore spot for the Bahamian people,” Mr Bannister said last night.
“ . . . I am advised that all contractors for buildings signed contracts and started work together in February 2014. No competitive bidding was done, so we cannot say that the most suitable or qualified contractors were selected, and we know that the Bahamian people did not get value for money with respect to the pricing of contracts.
“The former administration failed to authorise a geo-tech survey, which ought to have been standard for this type of construction. As a result, it was not until after excavation for foundations had commenced that sinkholes were found. At that time, almost all of the major buildings had to be relocated, including the now infamous male dormitory that later burned, the administration building, the cafeteria—moved twice— and the cluster of classrooms.
“The locations planned for the male and female dormitories were moved very slightly and small buildings remained where they were originally sited. One of the two-story villas was also located on a sinkhole, but the foundation details were adjusted to go deeper.”
He said there was initially no electricity on the construction site and work ended at sundown for some time.
He continued: “I am advised that project (had) cash flow difficulties and other complaints began in September of 2014, just months after the project had started.
“I am advised that monies were ‘running out.’ That is, most of the contractors were having difficulties producing what the authority wanted with the money contracted to do the work. It seemed that most contractors had cash flow problems much of which the professionals attribute to their entirely unacceptable method of selection.
“By June 2015, for a variety of reasons, construction had either altogether halted or slowed to an extremely slow pace on all but the cluster of classrooms and the cafeteria buildings, which themselves were not without their challenges.
“I am advised that the administration building, one of the two-story faculty villas and one of the single-story villas had come to a complete stop. The male dormitory had been burned in a fire and the female dormitory’s contractor had suddenly stopped work due to alleged financial difficulties and both contracts had been determined by the ministry.
“I await advice as to why we have not taken legal action against the contractor who built the ill-fated male dormitory, who I understand has been paid $2,535,769.17 on a $2,600,000.00 contract prior to the fire.
“The lecture theatre had run into design difficulties because a review by the client indicated the need for a redesign of some services and possible consequences for the whole structure.
“It was also during the second quarter of 2015 that the ministry reviewed all contracts and applied for additional funding at the expense of the Bahamian people. This free for all was a fiasco that all of the Bahamian people are now being forced to pay for.”
Mr Bannister also said in the aftermath of the male dorm being destroyed by fire, 51 subcontractors submitted claims of $551,967.53 in allegedly unpaid bills.
“Strangely enough, Mr Speaker, the contractor claimed that he owed more money to subcontractors and suppliers than they themselves claim,” Mr Bannister said. “He claimed that he owed them $828,793.03. In several cases, contractors and suppliers submitted claims for what they said was owed to them and the contractor told the ministry that he owed more money than they were claiming.
“Mr Speaker, in an amazing case of misfeasance, the former administration offered to pay $220,040.91 to these people. One company that did not even make a claim to the ministry was offered $28,078.50.”
He said another subcontractor that did not make a claim was offered more than $24,000.
He said ultimately, the former administration “sought to soften the blow” by offering many of these sub-contractors 60 per cent on the claims that they submitted.
He said to top it off, the Bahamian people spent $157,515 to demolish and cart away debris from the burnt male dorm.
“To date no legal action has been taken against the contractor. . . Mr Speaker as I said before, the honourable attorney general will have to decide whether to take legal action against ministers in the outgoing administration who made the outrageous decisions to waste the people’s money. Decisions that were not justified at the time and are not justified now. And if anyone disagrees with me, I have a burnt down male dormitory to sell them.”
He said the chaos of BAMSI’s origin is now behind it as the Minnis administration seeks to get the construction project on track.