Contractor knocks ‘renegade’ NWA officials

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A private contractor has scolded National Works Agency officials in an eastern Jamaica parish for “harassing” him and others for “unreasonable sums of money” to speed up contract payments and other processes related to the completion of projects.

The disgruntled contractor, in a tell-all interview with the Jamaica Observer last week, said that the NWA officials at the parish office were giving contractors “hell” and wants the agency’s leadership to intervene.

The contractor, who spoke with the Sunday Observer on condition of anonymity, described the NWA officials as “renegades” who have become brazen with their corrupt practices.

“It is distasteful and it stinks! There is no reasonableness to what they are demanding. They are actually just telling us, ‘look, I’m going to want $500,000’. And sometimes what it is they are asking you for is basically what you would have earned as a profit in the contract — so you would have actually given up everything out of it with these unreasonable renegades.”

He provided the example of employees exploiting large sums of money from contractors for “simple projects”, and outlined the unjust consequences meted out to them if they refuse to pay up. This bold approach to corruption, he said, has become common practice among NWA officials who oversee the country’s public works projects.

“What now seems to be a norm is that contractors are complaining that they are being harassed by what they call renegade project officials and other staff members employed to the National Works Agency, in that some of them are basically demanding some unreasonable sums of money from contractors. And if you fail to meet their demands, then a chain reaction goes with it.”

This chain reaction, he explained, usually involves harassment followed by spiteful delays in contract payments if their demands are not met.

“If you don’t pay them, you find that them harass you and make everything an issue. You also find that you have to wait an enormous length of time for payment to be made. Your bill submitted takes months, sometimes for it to leave from the parish office or from the project office to the base.

“Even for simple projects such as road patching or erecting a rubble wall, they are demanding money. It depends on the size of a contract. For example, say you’re doing a road patching or you doing a rubble wall, or you doing road, they will say ‘boss, you going need a extra amount of money’, and this is fi them money they asking for.”

He explained further that project officials have to agree on what a contractor can claim in a certificate of payment. He said that if contractors refuse to pay a certain sum of this money, project officials will sabotage their bill. On the other hand, he said that they will grant favours to contractors who are willing to pay.

“If you settle with what them want and pay them, they will speed up your certificate of payment because they now have an interest in it because they are being paid — so they will expedite the process and you get paid quickly. But if you refuse, your certificate of payment stays on the desk for months not being paid.”

Some contractors also willingly pay NWA project officials to overlook failed quality control tests or worse, pass building materials that do not meet the required standards.

This is backed up by a December 2015 auditor general’s report on the agency which revealed that NWA records showed 36 subcontractors submitting inauthentic test results, and between June 2013 and June 2014 the agency was aware of 15 instances of contractors submitting false quality control test results for materials used for road construction and rehabilitation work.

The source, however, revealed that the problem is widespread, affecting several contractors across the island.

“Several contractors are complaining. Talking to my colleagues out there, right across the entire island, they are being pressured due to the unreasonableness of some of these contractors.

“You find that people are saying, ‘I don’t understand. you are being paid by the NWA and here it is now that you are telling me how much you want and you need this amount of money from out of the contract.’”

The unfair practice, he further explained, has now become a turn-off for some private contractors who no longer, or refuse to take on public contracts with the Government entity because of the losses incurred having to pay corrupt NWA officials.

“The truth is that now you have some contractors who just don’t work with the NWA full stop… period. Long length of time for contractors to be paid is also another thing that make contractors make a decision that they don’t want a NWA work.”

When the Sunday Observer contacted chief executive Officer of the NWA, EG Hunter about the allegations, he denied having any knowledge of the alleged exploitative practices.

“I have no prior or other knowledge of the allegations, and my simple position to anyone who one finds himself in that position is to go straight to the police. Plain and simple!

“There is no ifs or buts about it”, he reiterated. “This is the first I am hearing of any such allegations and my position, having heard the allegation, I advise the persons to go straight to the police. It’s as simple as that,” said Hunter.

However, the source explained that the contractors do not make such reports to the authorities, “because we know the consequences. You can appreciate the fact that if you make an alarm with an officer who can pull the plug on you, who can make your life miserable, who can cut off your cash flow — they’re supposed to sign a bill for you and it takes months for him to sign that bill — you can understand what it means for you cash flow,” he said.

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