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Monday, October 2, 2023

Contractor explains delay in GTBoard eco-lodges project

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By Tabora Bojang

Alhagie Serign Fallou Mendee, the managing director of Lerr Group Construction Company which was contracted for the construction of eco lodges by the GT Board, Tuesday informed members of the National Assembly petitions committee about the issues concerning the non completion of a contract he was awarded to execute in 17 months.

Lerr Group was contracted by the GTboard to build five lodges across the country. He was called by the National Assembly to testify in enquiry into allegations made by some staff of the GTboard in a petition to the NAMs.

The petitioners alleged that former GT Board director Abdoulie Hydara and director of finance Ousainou Senghore had engaged in “financial abuse” to “enrich themselves” when they awarded the contract to Lerr Group which reportedly offered at least D10 million higher than the rest of the bidders.

In his testimony, the witness stated that even though his company’s bid was considered highest, the GPPA had found them to be the most compliant of all the bidders which was why they recommended to the GT Board to negotiate with them which led to the contract being signed in March 2020 for D22.3 million inclusive of VAT for each of the 5 eco lodges. 

He admitted that the contract was supposed to last 17 months but that has elapsed with none of the 5 completed.

However according to the contractor, the delay was caused by several factors including changes in the scope of the contract, late disbursement of funds by GT Board, differences between tender specifications and actuals which he said places extra financial burden on Lerr Group, without being reimbursed by the GT Board so far.

The Lerr Group boss reported that while three of the lodges Sotuma, Barra and Kunkilling are near completion, pending the release of funds by the GT Board, work has not even started on the two others to be constructed in Nyanga Bantang and Yawurr. “We wanted them [GT Board] to show us those two sites but for some reasons they have not, maybe there is a financial pressure on them,” the witness said.

He said as part of the contract, his company was conditioned to prefinance the lodges but they made it clear to the GT Board that they cannot pre-finance everything, as a result of which an agreement was reached for them to do financing between payments.

According to the witness, GT Board only made an initial 40 percent payment and followed up with another payment of D1.5 million and another payment of nearly D5 million to the suppliers.

“We spent D14 million on Barra alone. We would not have to borrow money from the bank if GT Board was paying us as agreed. What really harmed us is the misdirection of funds to the DK Hotel in Barra and later GTBoard reneged because they said they did not ask the consultant to make it a hotel. So they back tracked after we already spent a lot of money. So if everything was equal and unchanged, we would have finished the projects. I would not have taken this contract if I knew this was how difficult it was going to be,” the witness said.

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