There is much tension brewing within the Social Investment Fund. The refurbishment of the Dangriga Town Market is part of the 30 million dollar Belize Municipal Development Project, financed by the World Bank. And while the first phase of the project is near completion with the works in six of the municipalities wrapped up, the Dangriga Market, has had some setbacks. Setbacks which SIF claims is because the hired contractor, Kennard Smart of K & G Construction, experienced some cash flow issues. This week SIF removed Mr Smart from the project, cancelling the Contract, to the dismay of the Contactor and his financiers. We spoke with Executive Director of SIF, Daniel Cano who told us why the Institution has come to such a decision.
Daniel Cano – Executive Director of SIF:
The contract we had with K & G Construction was scheduled to be compleyed at the end of July. We did do an extension up to the end of October, because the works were quite a bit behind. Presently they’re about 44% completed, and there’s still significant delay in terms of the work being completed. So in that regard, we’ve had to move to close the contract. We feel that the delays are just too much at this time. We’ve had trouble with the cash-flow situation that the contractor has had. He’s just not been able to access resources, and even when he has more recently, it hasn’t translated to work on site. We have terminated another contract with this contractor, even before now. So yes, there have been issues with this contractor.
That other project is the Santa Elena Library. PlusNews has been reliably informed that the Contractor General has launched an investigation into the Dangriga Town Market project, as well as SIF. This is because Kennard Smart and the Financiers have levied several accusations of impropriety at employees of SIF. And while Daniel Cano confirmed that an investigation is in progress, he declined to go into details.
Daniel Cano – Executive Director of SIF:
We are aware that allegations have been made in regard to improper actions on the part of some employees of SIF, and improper relations with the contractor. That is something that is taken seriously, and is being investigated at this time by an entity outside of SIF.
What entity is that? Is that the Contractor general?
I cannot answer on that.
Let’s back track a bit, while Kennard Smart was still the head contractor, he sought out two financiers to help complete the project. They are Contractor Lyndon Bailey and Emy Gilharry Ramirez of Gush and Emy Limited. They claim that they pushed hundreds of thousands of dollars into the project, got the market construction back underway, obtained the necessary timeline extensions, BUT have not been compensated since. Now how this works, according to SIF, is that when a phase of the project is completed, for example the roofing, SIF would pay the contractor, who would then pay his partners. We caught up with Kennard Smart outside SIF’s headquarters on Friday, following his termination. They had come to Belmopan hoping to be paid, but instead received news about the impending contract termination.
Kennard Smith – Contractor:
There are many different things that came up with it., but we finally reached that these people had to come in and help me because I didn’t want the project to shut down. I was trying my best to complete the project. So I went anyway. I sold my assets. I borrowed from friends. I mortgaged my place. I did all kinds of things, just to bring the project through, so that the project would go on and be completed, so I could just walk away. I even told these guys from SIF, I do not want to get any more contracts, and this will be the last contract I’m getting. I told everyone, even the Contractor General, that this would be my last project. The amount of headache and stress and stuff that I have to go through, it’s only God keep me alive today. They came in two to three months now investing money, and they still can’t get any pay from it yet. We’ve sent at least five claims towards SIF, and they reject them and they say how they’re checking on them, and they’ll get back to us.
Now there are serious allegations of shady deeds and improper behavior against personnel within SIF, particularly as it relates to this project. Daniel Cano says this is something the organization is looking into.
I would say that I am aware of the allegations with this particular project. SIF has done hundreds of projects, and there’ve never been any allegations there. But on this particular project, this is not the first contract we’ve terminated qwith this contractor. We terminated another contract, and it was at that point that allegations started coming out. At that point we started to look at this seriously.
In addition, we were informed by the contractor that SIF had been making quite a few changes in personnel on the project. However, according to Cano, only one engineer and contractor have been moved and that, he says, is nothing out of the ordinary. Presently, he says, there is no engineer attached to the project. But the former head contractor Kennard Smart has a very different recollection of events. Speaking with him today, he listed six different persons who have cycled though the project on behalf of SIF, including engineers and Supervisors and Advisors. This Smart says, is a major part of why the project ran into problems. Smart told us that he is still hoping that money matters can be resolved in an amicable manner, but if it doesn’t, legal proceedings will have to follow.