NWA boss clarifies CHEC’s role in highway project

CHIEF executive officer of the National Works Agency (NWA) EG Hunter has sought to clarify recent reports that China Harbour Engineering (CHEC) is taking over some of the projects on the Southern Coastal Highway Improvement Project (SCHIP), pointing out that the Government’s contract is with the company, not subcontractors.

The clarification comes following reports on Prime Minister Andrew Holness’s announcement last month that CHEC was directed to take over some previously subcontracted projects, due to the slow pace of the works and the conditions, which angered some residents of St Thomas.

“The press reports things a particular way. Anytime a main contractor engages a subcontractor, the contract is specific that the main contractor is, and at all times remains, responsible for the actions of the subcontractor. In fact, the main contractor gets a markup on what the subcontractor gets, and that markup is to make sure that the subcontractor delivers,” Hunter told the Infrastructural and Physical Development Committee of Parliament on Thursday, when it met to discuss the status of the highway project and the Junction main road rehabilitation project.

He said a lot has been made of CHEC intervening and taking over some aspects of the work but it is the main contractor which the NWA and the Government — as the owner of the contract — hold accountable, not the subcontractors.

“We can’t intervene in the relationship between the main contractor and the subcontractor because the Government doesn’t have a contract with the subcontractors,” he explained.

Hunter stressed that the packages which comprise Harbour View to Yallahs are mostly 90 per cent completed and set to be finished by the end of August, with the obstacle presented by the location of the Bull Bay Police Station now resolved. He assured that the US$114 million, of which $107 million has been spent so far, remains the final cost of that leg of the project.

The CEO further explained that much of the issues stemmed from the contract being originally strictly for roadworks, but the NWA had made a case to the Government to expand major infrastructure contracts such as these to include water supply, particularly where there is insufficient water infrastructure in the area or the supply network is aged.

However, the contractors struggled to execute both aspects of the works and subsequently sublet the water component, while others struggled with it.

“The Government acceded to our request [but] the downside to it is that contractors who were roadworks contractors now have roadworks and water to do. From experience, those are two specialist areas — and ambidextrous contractors are just not that easy to find in that regard. What some of them did was to sublet the water component. There are important lessons to be learnt but CHEC has always had responsibility for the entirety of the work —whether they do it themselves or they do it through subcontractors,” he stated.

Members of the committee, Mikael Phillips and Julian Robinson insisted that it had taken the NWA too long to act on the complaint of dust and other nuisances which residents have been forced to endure on this and other similar major undertakings.

The CEO said there is a general misunderstanding as to the role of the NWA, pointing out that the highway contract is a Federation of Consulting Engineers (FIDIC) form of contract used in some 200 countries and which sets out separate roles and functions for the owner, contractor and the engineer.