Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Not one more cent!

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GOVERNMENT HAS BEEN advised not to invest any more money in an incomplete, poorly constructed and over-budget motor vehicle workshop for trainees in Sayes Court, Christ Church, that has so far cost taxpayers in excess of $1/4 million.
The advice is contained in a Special Audit done by the Auditor General of the Barbados Vocational Training Board (BVTB) covering its apprenticeship programme and the automotive refinishing workshop project on the compound of the C. Lomer Alleyne “Skills Training” Centre at Sayes Court.
It unearthed a tale of a building constructed without permission from the Town Planning department, based only on a “floor plan” done by an unqualified project administrator, who also did not have project management skills and knowledge to monitor the project, and a poor standard of construction.
An independent engineering assessment found that there was no evidence that the walls of the building extended below the base concrete slab on which the building was sitting.
“Poor construction at ground level will cause the building to be susceptible to cracking,” the report noted. “This is a departure from standard foundation construction where the supporting foundation over the block walls is buried below the ground surface.” 
According to the Auditor General’s 2012 report, under the Skills Training Programme, the BVTB offers a course in auto body repairs which includes units such as stripping vehicles, mixing and applying body filler, preparing body filled surfaces, disc-sanding and filling, and levelling and priming panels.
In January 2009, the report noted, the BVTB approved the construction of an automotive refinishing workshop constructed for the Skills Training Programme. The board approved the construction of this project on the recommendation of the executive management.
On January 27, 2010, the board of directors approved a budget of $157 000 towards the construction of the workshop inclusive of materials ($100 000) and labour ($57 000).
The report said the labour estimate was low because the board proposed utilizing Skills Training trainees to minimize the cost.
“The sum of $259 036.39 was disbursed over the life of the workshop project,” the report noted.
“This was $102 036.39 more than was budgeted and at the time of the review, the sum of $13 483.49 was still owed to three suppliers who were part paid.”
It said the variance occurred due to additional materials and labour for electrical and plumbing installations; and remedial work to facilitate renovations, but the original estimate did not include provision for this work.
The Auditor General said the BVTB could provide no evidence that planning permission had been obtained from the Town and Country Development Planning Office and the Environmental Protection Department to construct the workshop. 
“Work on the project started on January 18, 2010 based on the floor plan prepared by the project administrator,” the report said.
“This plan included washroom facilities but none were provided.
This clearly was an oversight. As a result, instructors and trainees have to traverse a distance of over 245 feet for restrooms.”
According to the report, correspondence on the file indicates that as far back as January 2009 the board decided to construct the workshop, whereas the project began in January 2010  –  one year later.
“The BVTB therefore had sufficient time to plan all aspects of this project and have the building drawings approved by the relevant Government agencies.”
The report said that based on the work completed and claims submitted by the contractor, the project administrator was required to determine if works were carried out satisfactorily before recommending the disbursement of funds. Once satisfied, he submits written recommendations to the Director of Training for payment to be authorized.
“A breakdown of the stages for construction and the budgeted associated costs would have been useful for monitoring the progress of the project and assessing whether it was within its budget. In the absence of this information, it was difficult to adequately monitor how the project was progressing against its budget.”
The report said that in June 2012, the BVTB commissioned an independent engineer to conduct a structural assessment of the automotive refinishing workshop project and provide an opinion on the status of the building.
The structural engineer determined that the standard of construction was poor in a number of areas.
(i) The walls should have had a mid-height beam at door height to add resistance to horizontal wind pressure, in the event of a storm or hurricane because of the height. This was not done. 
(ii) Roofs with slopes of less than about 30 degrees are subjected to higher wind uplift. In this context, the lack of hurricane straps on the building in question makes it easy for the roof to be lifted off in a significant storm or hurricane.
Other deficiencies mentioned were: the absence of mortar between the block work, walls built with blocks not properly joined at corners of the building, holes in a concrete beam which resulted in the steel work rusting, and the absence of guttering. 
The engineering report concluded that “it would be expensive to retrofit this building to bring it to acceptable standard”.
The engineer, however, advised that in the meantime, it should be “adequately insured to the extent possible”.
The Auditor General noted that the workshop was being utilized, but the project was not fully completed.
“Based on the expert assessment,” the Auditor General said, “it would be a waste of funds to invest further in this project.”
The Audit Office was also concerned about overpayment to a company that was contracted to provide services to the workshop for $34 996, but an additional amount of $4 400 was paid to the company for plastering. 
“However, the workshop is not plastered,” the report noted.

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