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Guyana govt stops jungle road project, fires U.S. contractor

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Opposition parties, civic groups and other government critics had warned against the company from the very beginning so when Transport Minister Robeson Benn announced at the weekend that government had pulled the plug on a Florida firm’s $15.4 million jungle road construction contract, virtually no one in the country but the firm’s management was surprised.

Before it had appeared on the scene more than a decade ago and before its 2010 contract award to build 80 miles of roads, bridges and boat crossings in the harsh southwestern rain forest, Synergy Holdings of West Palm Beach had no previous heavy duty engineering experience. In fact, one of its principals sold Hindu saris in Florida and had owed the feds $25,000 in back taxes. Still it was awarded a job worth $15.4M.

Despite all these troubling warning signs, the previous Bharrat Jagdeo administration went ahead with a contract to clear hundreds of 100-foot trees and build bridges over jungle rivers to prepare for the $800M, 140-megawatt Amalia Hydro project that is supposed to provide cheap electricity to the Caribbean trade bloc nation and end periodic rolling blackouts.

Unable to put up any longer with delays, Works Minister Robeson Benn called a news conference to cancel the project and vindicate all what local media houses such as the Kaieteur News had been reporting all along that the company was never up to it and that the contract appeared to have been a sweetheart deal for those in power to make easy money.

Benn says only 40 percent of the project target had been completed. Fip Motilall, Synergy’s chief, blamed bad weather, changes to designs and engineering specifications as reasons for sloth, saying government paid him about $8M but still owes him another $1M.

To make for the anticipated shame authorities will face from the opposition and a gloating media, Benn said daily fines will be imposed, the company will lose millions in performance bonds and more than 50 pieces of heavy duty equipment will become state property.

What Benn did not say was that authorities only went along with the project because it was so close to ex president Bharrat Jagdeo but now that he is out of reckoning, those still in cabinet appear to be moving slowly to dismantle his powerful and very rich empire of close friends running several high-priced projects in the country that he built in the past 12 years.

Nearly 100 workers including engineers will lose jobs but Benn vowed that replacement companies will be found to build the access roads and bridges for the hydro falls in the near future.

He also said that local financial institutions were unwilling to provide cash for performance bonds, calling it “the main issue, a fatal flaw.”

Updated 9:43 am, January 18, 2012
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