The former National Democratic Party (NDP) administration has been blamed for students of the Elmore Stoutt High School (ESHS) utilizing picnic tables instead of proper furniture at the educational facility.
According to Deputy Premier and Minister for Education Hon. Dr. Natalio Wheatley, after the passage of the 2017 hurricanes, the then NDP administration secured loans from the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB) for rehabilitation and reconstruction and companies were invited to make sealed bids since August 2018.
“It is important to note that the procurement process has been completely out of my ministry’s control, and we are completely at the mercy of the lengthy and rigorous tender process required by the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB),” he said on Tuesday’s sitting of the House of Assembly while responding to questions from the Opposition Leader Hon. Marlon Penn.
He further explained that when the Fahie administration was elected into office, they moved swiftly to repair the ESHS L-shaped building and reopened on September 6, 2019.
“Considering that the lengthy tender process required by CDB was not complete and our schools were opening and furniture was needed, a decision was taken to order temporary tables for students.”
He said 165 temporary tables were ordered, which allowed students to return to a full-day schedule.
“The temporary tables are currently being used in various classrooms throughout the building. This is a good example of where the tender process has not resulted in value for money. Rather it has led to excessive, unnecessary spending of money; we have in essence bought furniture twice, and our students have been the ones disadvantaged.”
He continued: “While the tendering has its place, we must balance our desire for the benefits of tendering with our basic common sense. In urgent situations, we can avoid protracted and expensive ordeals such as this with the shortlisting of companies and moving decisively. This was not the route selected by the previous (NDP) administration but let us learn from our mistakes.”
Hon. Dr. Wheatley said after many major delays, including a local tender process that was cancelled and later recommended by CDB to be advertised as a regional tender, the contract for the furniture was finally awarded to Metal Design & Concepts, a company located in Trinidad and signed on January 6 2021.
“The furniture is currently being manufactured in Trinidad, and the Ministry [of Education] is in regular communication with the company, and unfortunately, at this time, the ministry is unable to provide a shipment and or arrival date for the first batch of furniture. It is not only affecting the ESHS, but also the reopening of the Bregado Flax Educational Centre Secondary Division and the Enis Adams Primary school.”
When Hon. Penn inquired about the cost, the minister said he did not have the cost in front of him, and hence he did not want to give the wrong figure.
Penn asked him why the tender process could not have been forgone and funds taken from the Consolidated Funds as it had been with the ESHS L-shaped building, to which the minister said those decisions would have been made by the Minister of Finance.
He added: “Certainly, while the picnic tables have not been ideal, they have been able to help us in the interim until we get the furniture through the CDB process. I as well am frustrated by the length of time it is taking.”
He said he would encourage in the future to, if the funding is available, to use local funding for situations such as these.
In the meantime, rising on a point of information, Premier and Minister for Finance Hon. Andrew Fahie said the NDP had already awarded the contract, and there was always some issue with it, unlike the L-Shaped building, which the contract was not yet awarded, hence local funding could have been utilized in that instance.
However, Penn said, “with all due respect to the Premier, who to say what the Premier is saying is accurate? My knowledge says that the particular contract with the furniture was not awarded, that project was still out to tender.”