The already floundering Education Facilities Company Ltd (EFCL) has now lost out on the $800 million earmarked by Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley to fix 24 priority schools. The contract has been given to the National Maintenance Training and Security Company (MTS) instead.
The four-year-long fall out between the EFCL and the Government has also led to as many as 61 schools incomplete—the schools have been left in varying stages of completion since 2015.
Several Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE), primary schools, and secondary schools were left incomplete by the People's Partnership when they lost the general election in 2015 and demitted office. Of the 61 schools on that list, no work has been done since the PP left office.
The stalemate between the EFCL and the State also has 61 employees concerned that their necks are next on the chopping block, as without an injection of finances and the removal of its mandate to repair schools, the company is headed to a shutdown.
Three years ago, the Government appointed a Cabinet committee to oversee operations at EFCL. The four-person Cabinet committee is chaired by Planning Minister Camille Robinson-Regis. However, Robinson-Regis did not respond to questions sent by Guardian Media from November 27, 2019, to last week.
Communications Manager at the MTS, Adrian Raymond confirmed in a WhatsApp and email exchange on November 29 that the company had received the contract.
"MTS has been given the mandate to provide project oversight (Project Management Services) for the completion of 24 schools. The company is in the process of ensuring all statutory, contractual and other legal requirements are strictly observed regarding the administration of these projects. The company is also liaising with key stakeholders via our client for this initiative, the Ministry of Education," Raymond said.
"MTS also provides project services for the Ministry of Education's schools' vacation repair programme for the provision of minor works, refurbishments and emergency repairs."
According to an EFCL insider, in May 2019 the employees wrote to Rowley, the Minister of Education Anthony Garcia, Finance Minister Colm Imbert and several other high-ranking government officials detailing their concerns.
Guardian Media received a copy of the letter which states, inter alia, that there are "unofficial reports" of a Cabinet Note to relinquish EFCL of its mandate, the approval of MTS to take over the EFCL portfolio and a six-to-twelve-month period to dissolve the EFCL."
Insiders said that the Government never responded to them or addressed their concerns but so far, three employees whose contracts ended in September have been given three-month contracts instead of a contract renewal.
Guardian Media reached out to Education Minister Anthony Garcia to get a list of the 24 priority schools over the past two weeks but he never responded. Guardian Media then contacted Communications Minister Donna Cox who said that Garcia denied the reports and said it was "fake news."
6 companies hold critical judgments against EFCL
According to information provided by the EFCL, six companies currently hold critical judgments against the company:
•Delamar Contractors is owed $5.4 million
•China Jiangsu is owed $46 million
•Ginamco Caribbean Ltd $5.2 million
•KallCo Contractors $2.5 million.
•Prudecon Ltd is owed $3.5 million
•Zentyal Construction and Maintenance is owed $17 million.
The State is the sole debtor of EFCL and owes the company $47 million as of July 2019. However, the State made no provisions in the budget to allocate money to EFCL since 2016.
The payments to contractors by the EFCL has been under a microscope since the change in government in 2015. In 2016 former EFCL chairman Arnold Piggott said that when he assumed the role of chairman, he encountered evidence of mismanagement during the 2010-2015 People’s Partnership administration, including the discovery of a "mill-room" which was designated for the production of cheques and false invoices under the supervision of senior EFCL executives.
According to reports, police investigators discovered a private room and a small group of EFCL employees was found to be doctoring documents and back-dating contracts.
In 2015 Guardian Media exclusively reported that police investigators spent three days examining the secret contract mill-room at the EFCL's Maraval offices. The investigators secured documents in connection with the alleged activity that occurred there.
The employees were sent home pending an investigation and their clearance to the company's IT infrastructure was suspended.
This also prompted a parallel financial audit into the State-run special purpose company.
Insiders attached to the previous EFCL management revealed that some contractors paid as much as $60,000 for the favourable outcome to tendering processes. This meant that only a select group of contractors won tenders to build schools under the remit of EFCL.
Once the contract was "won," then another percentage of the overall cost of the contract was paid to continue to buy further favours from the EFCL.
When the government changed hands in 2015, the People's National Movement (PNM) refused to make any payments to contractors until invoices were vetted and proved to be for work actually done.
This lead to a slow pace of payment to contractors.
However, Guardian Media was told and was able to independently confirm that over 90 percent of the money owed to contractors was validated by four separate financial investigation teams.
Guardian Media learned that an EFCL finance team, an independent international accounting firm, the Ministry of Planning and the Ministry of Finance validated the payments owed by EFCL, yet the money remained unpaid, which led to hefty lawsuits.
$900m promised for schools, now reduced to $800m
Back in May, Finance Minister Colm Imbert announced the State's intention to tap the local market to raise some $900 million to repair 27 schools. At that time, the Minister of Planning Camille Robinson-Regis said that the summary of EFCL debt to contractors’ claim was $918 million, while claims by consultants amounted to $90 million. She said then that they were able to verify and pay $65 million owed to contractors. At that time Robinson-Regis said that the Ramai Trace Government Primary School was scheduled for completion within the next eight months so that the school would be delivered in January.
However, no work has been started at that school to date.
Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley said in November that $800 million was approved to complete 24 high priority schools.
Guardian Media reached out to Robinson-Regis to find out about the reduction in the amount raised by the State for school repairs but was unsuccessful.
On November 27, GML called Robison-Regis and was directed via text to send a message instead. Guardian Media asked then if EFCL was handling the construction of the 24 priority schools, or would MTS be given that contract. She did not respond.
On December 3, Guardian Media attempted to call the minister again and was directed to text the questions.
Again, there was no response.
An incomplete list of priority schools provided by the EFCL:
•Barataria North Secondary School
•Belmont Boys RC (completed but outstanding payment)
•Holy Cross College
•San Juan Boys' and Girls' GPS
•Lower Morvant GPS
•Santa Flora GPS
•Siparia Union Presbyterian PS
•Mt Hope Secondary School
•St Joseph Secondary School
•Arima Central Secondary School
•Ramai Trace SDMS
•Moruga AC PS
•Egypt Oasis GPS
•La Horquetta ECCEC
•Marabella AC PS
Percentage of completion in 2015 provided by former education minister Dr Tim Gopeesingh
•Arena Freeport 8%
•Avocat-Siparia old Road ECCEC 55%
•Beaucarro ECCEC 8%
•Bellevue ECCEC 10%
•Brighton AC–Belle View, La Brea ECCEC 30%
•Cashew Gardens 10%
•Cedros Government Quarters Site ECCEC 53%
•Cedros SDMS ECCEC 30%
•Chaguanas ECCE 8%
•Cypress/Union Development HDC ECCEC 80%
•Egypt Village GPS ECCEC 98%
•El Dorado SDMS ECCEC 30%
•Gasparillo ECCEC 30%
•Glenroy ECCEC 10%
•Iere ECCEC 8%
•La Horquetta North GPS ECCEC 44%
•La Paille ECCEC 32%
•La Platta (Valencia) ECCEC 47%
•Madras SWAHA ECCEC 5%
•Maracas SDA, Acono Road, Maracus, St Joseph 30%
•Moruga ECCEC 8%
•Orange Field Hindu ECCEC 10%
•Orange Valley, Carapichima 30%
•Petit Morne Development #1 ECCEC 30%
•Petit Morne Development #2 30%
•Picton II ECCEC 30%
•Plum Mitan Road 8%
•Pranz Gardens 8%
•Race Course Road Carapo ECCEC 39%
•Samaroo Village ECCEC 10%
•San Francique SDMS ECCEC 12%
•Sangre Grande GPS ECCEC 8%
•Spree Simon POS ECCEC 31%
•Springvale SDMS ECCEC 30%
•St Ann's ECCEC 10%
•Tulsi Manas (SWAHA) S/Grande ECCEC 70%
•Upper Penal Rock Road ECCEC 10%
PRIMARY SCHOOLS UNDER CONSTRUCTION (19)
•Belmont RC Boys' PS 35%
•Chatham GPS 40%
•Curepe Presbyterian PS 53%
•Cypress Gardens GPS 40%
•Egypt Oasis GPS 33%
•Endeavour SDMS PS 10%
•Flanigan Town RC PS 15%
•La Fillette RC PS 22%
•Lower Morvant GPS 11%
•Marabella Boys'/Girls' AC PS 11%
•Preysal GPS 43%
•Ramai Trace SDMS PS 40%
•Reform Hindu PS 55%
•Rousillac SDMS PS 60%
•San Juan Boys'/Girls' GPS 50%
•Santa Flora GPS 35%
•Siparia Union Presbyterian PS 10%
•Fanny Village GPS 41%
•Woodbrook Presbyterian 40%
SECONDARY SCHOOLS UNDER CONSTRUCTION (6)
•Carapichaima West Secondary 81.8%
•St Joseph Secondary 96.8%
•Shiva Boys' Hindu College 74%
•Parvati Girls' Hindu College 72%
•Siparia East Secondary 48.7%
•Mt Hope Secondary School 84%
History of EFCL
The EFCL was formed back in 2005 as a special purpose company with the mandate to provide project management.
The organisation was expected to deliver, repair and maintain educational institutions from the Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) level to the Primary and Secondary levels.
In 2010 the company reported an income of $41.3 million
By 2015, when Government's changed came reports of a contract mill-house secretly operating in an EFCL backroom, changing dates on invoices.
The PNM then suspended all outgoing payments until it could guarantee that the payments were valid.
The chairman and another senior executive were fired amid news that one contractor billed EFCL some $900 million for 58 contracts.
The PNM appointed chairman, Arnold Piggot also quit the company. He denied that he was forced out, but cited heavy political interference in the company's operations.
Since then a four-person Cabinet appointed team has oversight at the EFCL.
There have also been reports of late salary payments and contractors attempting to garnish the company's furniture and equipment to satisfy outstanding payments.