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$3.3 million owed to Gravel & Concrete

The Mt Rush location of Gravel & Concrete, which was a “dumping ground” for supporters of the last regime

State-owned Gravel & Concrete is owed in excess of EC$3 million dollars by businesses, mainly construction companies that purchase material from the Mt Rush based statutory body.

According to a high-level source, the biggest debtor to Gravel & Concrete is the Trinidad-owned Handover Construction Company (HCC) which is owing $693, 246.66 up to the end of August, and also Sunrise Construction ($96,000.00).

He told THE NEW TODAY that he had seen figures prepared by the Finance Department of the corporation which suggest that the statutory body is “not in the red” financially but can be solid when it comes to cash.

“The overall debt envelope is $3, 370, 531.06 – not debt but who is owing, that is money outside (to be collected)” he said.

He admitted that there are some construction companies on the island that have not paid Gravel & Concrete for the past 90 days which is the maximum credit limit extended to its customers.

In the case of Handover, new Physical Development Minister Dennis Cornwall admitted this week that there was a problem over the payment of money to the company that was inherited from the defeated New National Party (NNP) government of then Prime Minister Dr. Keith Mitchell.

Cornwall disclosed that after discussions with HCC which had secured about 13 contracts for roads and bridges under the last government, the Congress administration had decided to process some payments for them in order for work to resume at pace on the stalled La Borie road reconstruction project.

The government insider told THE NEW TODAY that Gravel & Concrete is definitely over-staffed and was apparently being used as “a dumping ground” by members of the defeated Keith Mitchell-led NNP administration to find jobs for its supporters.

He said the current labour force at Gravel & Concrete is around 108 employees with about half of them working on contracts and the others being permanent workers.

“It’s a dumping ground – like you go by the minister for a little (work) up there and he just calls them and say he is sending somebody – that is one of the issues,” he remarked.

According to the government insider, another issue facing the state body was “aging” equipment.

THE NEW TODAY understands that the newly appointed Board of Directors for Gravel & Concrete, headed by former government minister Sylvester Quarless has already been briefed about the purchase of two concrete pouring truck at US$200,000 a piece several months ago in the United States and has been plagued by mechanical problems since arrival.

The source said that an investigation will most likely be conducted into the financial transaction since the trucks are automatic and not suitable for the local terrain coupled with the fact that it has been losing money on the deal.

According to the source, the new incoming board will have to address some of the weaknesses that currently exist within the company including the failure to hire a Human Resource Manager to supervise the staff.

He also said that the Quarless-led team would need to strengthen the management structures at various areas like the Garage, and to review some of the price structures for the products that are being sold to the public due to competition from the private sector.

“You have private people bringing in sand and competing with (Gravel & Concrete) – I really thought that they had the monopoly but no – the NNP give their partners a little (piece of the business) here and (they are) bringing in sand to compete with Gravel & Concrete,” he added.

Under local law, the use of sand is under the control of Gravel & Concrete but its inability to supply the local market resulted in the former NNP regime allowing private business to import the material mainly from Guyana.

The son of former Prime Minister Keith Mitchell has been identified as a major player in imported sand.

Another major issue that was cited as in need of addressing at Gravel & Concrete was the various skillset of employees for proper placement.

“We don’t want to send anybody home but once they are willing to work and rationalise the whole structure and where you could place people that is ok and fine,” he said.

When told that past studies have identified Gravel & Concrete as being heavily overstaffed, he said: “Well some heads might have to roll but before you do that you look at their skillset and see what placement best fit for some of them.”

However, the government insider dropped hints that there would be no place at the state-run body for those workers who have little or nothing to do at the workplace.

“… You have to take the tough decisions,” he quipped.

THE NEW TODAY was told that Gravel & Concrete would soon be placing advertisements for two senior vacancies – a General Manager and also a person to head the HR Department.

The substantive manager is Wilfred Hercules, a retiree who has been off the job for several months now and the acting Manager is Martin Thomas, another retiree from the National Water & Sewerage Authority (NAWASA) who has been working on a one-year contract that is due to end in February.

Thomas is said to be the Deputy Chairman of the NNP St George North-west constituency branch of defeated Prime Minister Keith Mitchell.

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