Sunday, August 30, 2009

BK International has been awarded a $267 million contract

Regional Chairman admits using sub-standard materials to repair bridges
August 30, 2009 | By KNews | Filed Under News

- West Demerara rice farmers fed up with poor infrastructure

By Neil Marks

When a loud scream of “lie!” came from a rice farmer, it was clear this was not going to be an ordinary meeting.

Soon, many more accusations started flying, and Region Three Chairman, Julius Faerber, bore the brunt of them.
Rice farmer Kamal Ramraj says this bridge was built using sub-standard materials and is not suitable for the passage of heavy-duty cane harvesting equipment.

Rice farmer Kamal Ramraj says this bridge was built using sub-standard materials and is not suitable for the passage of heavy-duty cane harvesting equipment.

As soon as he started speaking at a meeting yesterday with West Demerara rice farmers, organised by the Rice Producers Association (RPA), Faerber was shot down.

Rice farmers are fed up with the excuses regarding the poor state of infrastructure as they head into second crop harvesting.

Faerber started off by declaring that the Regional Administration has assisted farmers in draining the rice dams.

Then is when he received the stinging rebuff of ‘lie” from one of the farmers who gathered at the Windsor Forest Primary School.

The meeting was called for the farmers to discuss their problems with key officials. Those in attendance to meet with the farmers, apart from Faerber, were Minister of Agriculture, Robert Persaud; Chief Executive Officer of the National Drainage and Irrigation Authority (NDIA) Lionel Wordsworth; Senior Engineer with the Agriculture Sector Development Unit, Frederick Flatts, and General Manager of the Guyana Rice Development Board, Jagnarine Singh.

When Faerber complained that the Regional Administration was experiencing difficulties, namely an out-of-order bulldozer, in grading the dams to allow for easy access, it was irritating.

“Wait fo rain fall!” a farmer shouted at him. When Faerber said the administration was facing difficulties in accessing “crush and run” to make the dams more “comfortable” farmers threw their hands in the air in anger.

But Faerber kept on detailing other projects the Regional Administration had undertaken to assist the farmers.

He pointed out that the Region had built three irrigation structures, but farmers said these were so badly constructed that “dem done rotten out.”

In fact, chairman of the Vreed-en-hoop/La Jalousie Water Users Association, Kamal Ramraj, said the structures “done blow way.” It was money wasted.

When farmers requested the costing for the projects, Faerber could not provide it and instead told the farmer to meet him at his office tomorrow.

There were claims that the Regional Administration had repaired several bridges before the last crop started.

But the farmers said this was another lie, and that in fact the bridges were constructed after the last crop. Even so, Ramraj said that the bridges, which Faerber said cost $3.2 million, were built using sub-standard materials.

Faerber was forced to admit that the Regional Administration used sub-standard material, because it was their judgment that some of the materials could be “use back” to repair the bridges.

Ramraj said this was a fool-hardy decision, and even with the sub-standard material used, the bridges would not withstand the pressure of the heavy duty rice harvesters and as a result after this second crop, more money would have to be spent to repair the bridges.

Water Users Associations (WUA) have been formed to empower farmers with responsibility to rehabilitating, sustaining and managing drainage and irrigation systems. The Minister of Agriculture urged “every single farmer” to take ownership of projects in their communities, but in a constructive way and not to go and “cuss down” the contractors.

Persaud told the farmers they should attend the bi-weekly meetings the WUA has with the contractors and the supervisory consultants to express any concerns they have with government projects. Contracting firm BK International has been awarded a $267 million contract to construct a total of 34 drainage and irrigation structures between Vreed-en-hoop and La Jalousie. The project also entails the replacement of 13 bridges and the re-construction of 11 kilometers of access roads.

However, the Ministry of Agriculture has expressed concern about the pace of works and is expected to meet with the contractor tomorrow.

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