In all the recent turmoil concerning the Elmore Stoutt High School wall, I can’t help thinking that most readers and listeners will have been gobsmacked, as I was, at the admission by the minister of education and culture that, because the need was urgent, the tendering process was bypassed in favour of petty contractors — no less than 70 of them. That’s seven zero! Who decided on the number? I am surprised that Cabinet agreed to it (well, maybe not), but the governor? With such small individual sections, the contractors must have been working shoulder to shoulder and tripping over each other’s wheelbarrows.
First, what was the hurry? The school has been there for years with perhaps inadequate protection. A few more months to tender for a proper contract/contractor would have made little difference but might have given us better value for money.
It has always seemed to me that a petty contractor is two men, a wheelbarrow and a bag of cement. That’s all very well for building what has proved to be inadequate housing, retaining walls and roads, but is grossly inadequate for such a large contract.
SCB wall, highway
The Sea Cows Bay wall had dozens of petty contractors, as did the four-lane highway, and both were beset with problems. The method may curry favour and votes, but we do not get value for money. How do we know that these 70 stalwarts all did the work they were paid for and worked to the same standards and at the same rates? And in the end, why wasn’t it finished properly? It would be nice to have a list of their names, lengths of wall contracted for, how much they were paid, and whether each piece of work was signed off as satisfactory.
There is more at stake than the minister’s reputation. It’s a question of how the whole of government spends our money. The next government should insist on sticking to the petty contract rules with a ceiling, all other contracts being tendered. I can’t imagine the Recovery and Development Agency sanctioning thousands of petty contracts for the rebuilding of all the government properties.
It would employ all those so-called out-of-work Virgin Islanders, almost any of whom could learn to push a wheelbarrow. We are told they can’t get jobs because outsiders are favoured. Well, here’s a chance.
Merry Christmas and a happy New Year!