Materials shortage dogs key projects
July 15, 2004
A SHORTAGE of materials – including cement and bitumen – continues to dog key development projects and is of major concern to the government, Cabinet spokesman, Dr. Roger Luncheon said yesterday.
He said the area of materials management is of prime concern because “hundreds of millions of US dollars” are being committed to the many infrastructure projects.
He noted that the cement and bitumen shortage is of particular concern because of the ongoing massive infrastructure projects, including the four-lane highway on the East Bank Demerara, resurfacing roads on the West Demerara, from Mahaica to Rosignol and from Moleson Creek to New Amsterdam.
Luncheon told his weekly post-Cabinet news briefing he had a “fruitful” meeting with Shell Antilles Limited, the sole importer of bitumen here, and company representatives assured that steps were being taken to address the shortage.
He reported that the company cited storage capacity and the uniqueness of the bitumen specification as the causes for the “temporary setback.”
The major step being undertaken to alleviate the shortage in this regard is the doubling of the company’s storage capacity, he said.
At a previous press briefing where he lamented the shortage of building materials, he had declared: “Import diversification is a must and competition in the affected sector must be promoted”. He had said then too that “a mix of short and medium term interventions are being implemented in an effort to finally and conclusively remedy this situation.”
“Cement again is in critical supply as the regional supplier T.C.L (Trinidad Cement Limited) seems continually unable to meet our current demands and imports from extra-regional sources have failed to reduce the deficit”, he said.
Luncheon said the government’s investment programme in the public sector, particularly the civil works component, continued to be adversely affected by bottlenecks in materials management systems.
Locally funded projects within the Public Sector Investment Programme (PSIP) have been found to be behind target, according to a Cabinet half-yearly report but foreign funded schemes have been on schedule, he said.
Cabinet has agreed that that performance compared to targets set for locally funded projects has been “sub-optimal”, he said.
He explained though, that the Ministry of Finance has cited several constraints which have negatively impacted on the achievement of set targets, including deficiencies in capacity in various agencies, the late passage of the national budget in April last, and materials management deficiencies
As a result of the situation, Cabinet has instituted statutory reforms and administrative means, the execution of which remain under constant supervision by Cabinet, the spokesman reported.
Asked to comment on the contention that red tape at the Ministry of Finance delays the release of funds for projects, Luncheon said he had to concede that there are “historical bases” for the delays in the way public expenditure management was done by the ministry.
However, he pointed out that a statutory remedy being pursued is the early enactment of the annual national budget.
Discussions were being pursued with the donor community to have the budget prepared by late December/January of each year, he said, adding that the budget circular for 2005 was out and work on its implementation has already begun in all regions, departments and ministries.
“So although I am willing to concede that there are historical factors at play, in the context of new arrangements, the streamlining of approaches, I would want to believe that we should be soon seeing the benefits and the marked reduction if not the elimination of bureaucratic delays in the management of our expenditure,” Luncheon offered.
The intention behind close supervision is to identify “bottlenecks” and to expeditiously implement corrective measures, particularly in those instances where commercial considerations seem to be to the detriment of timely execution of projects, he explained.