Guyana losing battle against the sea
--Dutch mission completes study

By Gitanjali Singh
Stabroek News
November 7, 1999

Guyana is losing the war against the sea and also stands to lose US$27 million from the Inter American Development Bank (IDB) if it does not get its act together on the Lusignan sea defence project.

A Dutch study commissioned by Minister of Transport and Hydraulics, Anthony Xavier, revealed that the IDB has threatened to pull the US$7 million available over the last eight years for the construction of the Lusignan sea defence. The bank, the study said, has also threatened to cancel the proposed US$20 million loan for the sea defence sector because of sloth in the pace of executing the Lusignan project.

"IDB gave a clear message. Either the tender for Lusignan is launched expediently, or the funds will be withdrawn," the study done in August and recently seen by Stabroek News stated.

The contract for the Lusignan project is not prepared as yet and adjustments have to be made to the design and tender documents given data from new soil investigations.

The study, which was critical of the government's reactive approach to sea defence reconstruction, said the Lusignan project was a typical case of "too little too late" and urged that immediate measures be taken on the Lusignan project so as not to lose the IDB loans.

The study, by the Rijkswaterstaat Mission, found the reconstruction of Guyana's sea defence in the last seven years to be at less than half the pace required to deal with the encroaching sea.

"Sea level is rising with increasing speed, slowly reducing the safety of all sea defences, those with coping walls in particular," the study warned. It pointed out that only eight kilometres of sea defence had been rehabilitated since 1992, while deterioration of the 100 kilometres was taking place and new coastal zones were exposed each year due to receding mangrove forests.

The study, submitted to Xavier several weeks ago, said the government was spending lots of resources on emergency sea defence works rather than on managing a "vital, sound programme of reconstruction". "Instead of an incidence fund, emergency works are treated as a routine... impl[ying] a severe waste of money and energy," the study argued, noting the absence of any medium- to long-term plan which highlights priorities and outlines damage preventative measures.

The study said that with emergency works Guyana pays thrice: the damage caused by the breach costs the country money, causing a lot of discomfort if not worse in the process; the breach then has to be repaired at uneconomical speed, applying hasty designs without suitable site investigations or optimisation; permanent work is put in place, making just scarce use of the materials put there recently.

The study noted that following the delays in executing the jumbo-project co-ordinated by the IDB, World Bank, Caribbean Development Bank and the European Development Bank, the World Bank has left the sector and the EU is the only one continuing its programme aimed at strengthening institutional capacity in the Ministry of Works.

The sea defence sector in Guyana was also found to be suffering from a deteriorating image ("underperformance and rumours of ill-spent funds"). The study insists that the pricing of sea defence rehabilitation work has raised some confusion as rumours of overpricing and under spending of funds created hesitant attitudes and counterproductive discussions and delays. It found little insight in professional cost calculation methods and noted that staff responsible for tender evaluations seem unfamiliar with some pricing aspects of contracting like mobilisation costs, allowances for risks and unforeseen conditions and financing cost, while no modern method of cost calculations are applied.

It also found that tendering is often followed by bargaining, where particular aspects of a bid are renegotiated. And reports of earlier contracts not being settled satisfactorily cause new bidders to include substantial risk allowances in their bids.

The study also found that the bureaucratic procedures of the ministry's administrative process and the funding agencies were not adequately followed and cooperation between the ministry and the central tender board seemed below optimal, causing unnecessary delays.

Persons involved in tendering were found to display little sense of urgency and the study said such attitude does not fit the urgency of the sea defence rehabilitation works at hand. It said the relation between delays in awarding rehabilitation works and breaches in sea defence seem to go unnoticed and such attitude was not in the best interest of the economy or people's welfare.

The study called for out-sourcing to have reinforced management capacity and technical knowledge in the sea defence sector; to produce a ten-year sea-defence plan; to have designed donor-funded projects; and to verify the quality of work being carried out.

In such a scenario, it sees the ministry of works reducing its role to that of the employer (in the medium term), managing the process and contracting out all technical works. It also said that the existing tender procedures hamper project execution and called for their removal.

The study also highlighted the need for a coastal zone management programme as an essential priority, noting that the sea level is rising, the sea bottom is eroding, the waves are increasing and the mangroves are receding and no measurements are being done as to the potential effects on the sea defence.

"Will disaster hit the coming years or only after decades? Not knowing what the threat is and when it will occur seems like the gamble of a blindfolded man," the study stated. The Rijkswaterstaat experts are offering themselves to act as advisers and auditors to assist the minister of works.

Among the study findings were the failure to reconstruct 30 kilometres of the most urgent dike sections of the sea defence identified ten years ago, despite considerable technical and financial support to the government. The study noted that the backlog may have since increased.

It found the rip rap sea defence structure to be a sturdy and almost maintenance free and financial savings solution to Guyana sea defence structures but said the main technical problems with it concerns the unstable slopes due to poor "geotechnical condition" of the subsoil.

The consultants also noted the benefits of sheetpiling work as a revetment structure given its easy nature of construction. However, the disadvantages are that sheetpiling only retains the top of the slope and induces a change in the bottom profile, causing severe erosion at the toe of the sheetpiling. The study noted that sheetpiling was inflexible to changes in the bottom or slope and the effects of it were undetected until a slide occurs or the sheetpiles fail. It also noted that sheetpiling leakages undermine the construction behind it which can possibly result in settlements. As such, the consultants only recommend sheetpiling for emergency works and even contend that there are other alternatives which may be preferred.

As to the concrete slabs and coping walls applied all along the coast to strengthen sea walls and which have served for many years and even some decades, the consultant noted that the construction was also inflexible and unless it was of the highest quality, leakage of clay and sand particles undermines the construction. Again when the subsoil settles or erodes, this would remain unnoticed until the construction collapses, often during a heavy storm. Repair, the study noted, was difficult as the smallest leak introduces new settlements, cracks and finally failures. It also said upgrading coping walls for more severe conditions (higher waves) is difficult as the foundation is usually insufficient.

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