Irregularities discovered in NDIA contracts; Auditor General to investigate

Agriculture Minister Zulfikar Mustapha working in the fields
Agriculture Minister Zulfikar Mustapha working in the fields

Following the discovery of several irregularities, the Office of the Auditor General Office has been tasked with scrutinising two contracts which the National Drainage and Irrigation Authority (NDIA) awarded earlier this year.

Minister of Agriculture, Zulfikar Mustapha said the decision was taken after the Ministry discovered that the procedures used to extend the contracts breached the National Procurement Act. The Minister made this statement during a press briefing at his office today.

While the contractors’ names were not disclosed, he said the contracts were awarded to operate, service and monitor the NDIA’s hydronic excavators for Region Four. One contract was awarded on July 1, 2020 valued almost $65 million.

“The original bill of quantity budgeted for was approximately 44,000 rods of channels to be dug and 75,000 cubic yards of canals to be excavated,” he said.

The contract was later extended by an additional $46.5 million, which was granted even without out an approval of variation of the contract.

“Before a variation for a contract is done, you have to make a formal approval or put the contract on pause. For example, based on the work that is currently taking place, you may have to say you believe that the engineer will need more funds and as a result of that, this is the new estimated cost. But without that, this contract was extended. This is like a fait accompli because after they would have increased the sum, they then sent it to the tender board.”

Minister Mustapha pointed out that another contract was made on July 6, 2020 valued $34 million. That budgeted Bill of Quantity caters for 28,000 rods of channels to be cleared and the excavation of 30,000 cubic yards of canal.

“To date, the contract was extended for variation and the contractor only cleared 19,880 rods of channels and 21,300 cubic yards of the canal; less than the amount budgeted for. This was extended by an additional $35 million, which is 100 per cent,” the Minister added.

These matters are concerning and must be investigated, Minister Mustapha said.

“A lot of funds are going to these places and we have to value our money. Over the years we have had a lot of accusations about people colluding and increase the rate of these works in the area.”

While extending a contract is not unusual, Minister Mustapha said these practices breach of the National Procurement Act, especially when sums are increased without approval.

“This goes to show how these entities have been operating over the last years,” he noted. The documents are now being probed by the Auditor General’s Office. In the meantime, the Minister is working to revamp systems at the various entities to ensure that a similar incident does not occur.