Minister threatens to deal with public sector 'contractor' engineers 

BY: Naa Lamiley Bentil & Irena Ansah Pobee, Koforidua
Mr Akwasi Amoako-Atta, Minister of Roads and Highways
Mr Akwasi Amoako-Atta, Minister of Roads and Highways

The Minister of Roads and Highways, Mr Akwasi Amoako-Atta has declared war on staff of the ministry who have allegedly registered their own companies and have been awarding contracts to themselves to the detriment of local contractors.

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"I don't have any prima facie evidence to this effect, but from persistent complaints from contractors, I can say that there is an iota of truth. Whatever it is, I am sounding this strong warning to all of you, including myself, that if that practice is true it must end immediately.

"Those who are involved might think that the companies are not registered in their names so they can hide. I won't say anything on that but should it come up, our lawyers will tell you that we shall pierce within the veil, and we will know who is behind that company. I am telling you that if any director, any engineer or minister or deputy or member of staff is caught, then the evidence becomes clear that during your service you are competing with contractors, and we will deal with you," he warned.

At a strategic management workshop on the theme: 'Preserving the Road Asset to Facilitate Economic Growth and Job Creation' in Koforidua, Mr Amoako-Atta told the workers, including engineers, administrators and his two deputies, to stay clear of such conflict of interest practices or face the full rigours of the law when caught.

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"Please, don't let us allow at this stage what we presume as perception to become a reality," he said.

Mr Amoako-Atta asked contractors who had been making the allegations to furnish him with names of people involved in such practices.

"I am told, and you know it yourselves, and you hear it all the time that some of us working within the ministries and agencies have registered companies and are working and competing with contractors for jobs. This is ethically, morally and legally wrong.

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"My advice to everybody, including my own self for the time being that I am with you, is that if there is anybody engaging in such a practice, he or she must stop immediately. None of us has the right to register a company, to take up contract jobs while working within the Ministry of Roads and Highways and its agencies.

"If you want to be a contractor, honourably resign from the ministry and go and register your company and take up contract jobs," he stressed.

Mr Amoako-Atta indicated that his interactions with road contractors' associations had revealed a number of issues that were adversely affecting the performance of the road industry.

"The contractors were concerned about engineers competing with contractors for projects, lack of funding for projects, delay in payment for completed works and the government's position on providing guarantees to financial institutions to make payment for work done in the joint names of the contractors and the financial institutions," he stated.

The strategic management workshop is organised by the Ministry of Roads and Highways annually to, among other issues, evaluate its performance and re-strategise for the years ahead.

It was attended by directors and heads of departments at the Ghana Highway Authority (GHA), Department of Urban Roads (DUR), the Department of Feeder Roads, the Road Fund Secretariat and the Koforidua Training Centre (KTC).

Road condition mix

According to Mr Amoako-Atta, the country currently had a road condition mix portfolio of about 72,000km, out of which 39 per cent, 32 per cent and 29 per cent had been classified as good, fair and poor respectively.

He cited over-commitment of road budgets, inadequate supervision and low quality work emerging from capability constraints of contractors as some of the challenges negatively affecting the road sector although other factors such as uncontrolled expansion of the network and planning schemes were also responsible for some of the lapses.

"The cumulative effect of these issues is a large portfolio of unpaid certificates and a backlog of maintenance activities, a situation which is unacceptable and has to be reversed immediately as it adversely affects the government's agenda and commitment to provide badly needed road investments nationwide," he added.

Budget overburdened

Mr Amoako-Atta said the ministry's budget to undertake fresh projects had been stretched thin.

"On my assumption of office, I was informed that the value of committed projects had already exceeded the ministry's 2017 budget allocation. This means that the scope of new projects was very limited. This situation is alarming and threatens to derail the government's programme of expanding the network," he lamented.

He, therefore, urged participants to be guided by the fact that funding sources for road projects were not limitless and instructed the agencies to strictly conform to their budget ceilings and avoid over-commitment.

"Consequently, new projects will only be started when adequate designs have been completed and reviewed to adhere to value-for-money standards and also meet the needs of the communities in which they are located," he stated.

Contractor training programmes

The ministry, the minister said, was going to reactivate its contractor training programmes at the KTC to enhance the skills of contractors for better performance, adding that technical staff of construction firms, including equipment operators and artisans, would be required to undertake mandatory courses at the KTC for their companies to be eligible to participate in specific tenders.

Eastern Regional Minister

The Eastern Regional Minister, Mr Eric Kwakye Daffuor, urged the ministry to pay attention to the road network in the region which currently needed urgent attention.

"There is no excuse why the Eastern Region roads cannot be put in the best of shapes," he stated.

Senior Minister

The Senior Minister, Mr Yaw Osafo-Maafo, observed that: "The current stagnated road condition mix, coupled with the poor rating of the road network by the Ghana Institution of Engineers in the Ghana Infrastructure Report scorecard for 2016, was a clear wake-up call to the ministry."

He said it was time the ministry deepened its collaboration with academia of the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST), the technical universities and the research institutions such as the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) to help develop cost-effective solutions to the technical challenges facing the road industry.