By Elesha George
Arbitration on the future of the road works
completion has been pushed back to mid-January, a little over one year after an
adjudicator was selected to preside over a dispute between Bahamas Hot Mix
(BHM) and the government of Antigua and Barbuda.
BHM was contracted to complete work on the Sir
George Walter Highway and the Friars Hill Road within 20 months, beginning in
September of 2017. However, there were delays which the construction company
reportedly said were caused by the Antigua Public Utilities Authority (APUA)
because they took an additional nine months to bury utility lines.
The construction company had asked for more
time and money to complete the two major roadways, but the government refused,
with Minister of Works Lennox Weston, protesting that BHM could have started
its work from the end where APUA had already completed burying the lines,
instead of waiting for everything to be finished.
This led BHM to request an arbitration, which
the Minister explained “we were in the middle of an arbitration; that
arbitration should have ended by November. That arbitration would have provided
some guidance, although one could appeal or go to the Privy Council.”
Surprisingly, Weston said that although the
construction company brought the case against the government, when it was time
for the adjudicator to return with a ruling, BHM put in a submission to ask for
additional time for counter-arguments.
Nonetheless, a settlement is expected to be reached some time in January
Weston, who had on several occasions
threatened to fire BHM, told OBSERVER that in hindsight that may not be
the best option.
“We have had discussions with the Caribbean
Development Bank in terms of what will happen if we ever decide to fire them.
The Caribbean Development Bank has said that we’ll have to go back to tender,
open tender, and that process will take three to four months to get a new
contractor in place, and so in the end, we’ll have to make an assessment at the
end of December as to if they’re three months away from finishing or more than
3 months,” the minister explained.
However, in the meantime, the Works minister
reiterated that the government will proceed with suing BHM for nonpayment.
“We will be moving to put a lawsuit on them
for over $10 million for aggregates. They haven’t paid us a cent yet for all
the aggregates they have taken from us,” he shared.
He described the situation as “an ongoing
battle with a very difficult contractor whose modus operandi is one of utilising lawyers and throwing mud and
hoping they can get additional money.”