During a meeting with residents of Plegt Anker on the East Bank of Berbice on Saturday last, Agriculture Minister Zulfikar Mustapha instructed the National Drainage and Irrigation Authority (NDIA) to withhold payments to contractors who have failed to complete works in the village.
This decision was made after several residents raised concerns about incomplete works that were carried out in the community. They told the Minister that only a small percentage of the works were carried out and that when they questioned the contractor, they were told that the conditions were not favourable to complete the works.
One farmer who was present at the meeting told the Minister that one of the reasons he experienced severe losses during the flooding was because the canal in his area had not been desilted.
“One of the things that caused us to suffer during this flood, the northern empowerment within the Ma Retraite Scheme area, that is Belmont Canal; that canal is very silted. A few months ago, a contractor executed some works on that canal and another one at Ma Retraite. They did apart. Just the outfall at Belmont and at Ma Retraite, about 200 rods in, and then they left. If that canal were excavated during that time, we would not have suffered so tremendously because right now, the water is at dam level and still very high in the backland. At the front low, but when you go at the back, it is high because the trench silt up,” the farmer explained.
Another resident who raised a similar issue said water levels would recede if works are carried out on the canal.
“What caused the most ducking out really, is a tubing they put on the road. With the government’s help, we dug a trench, but the contractor them go away and leave the trench. He dig about 200 rods, and they clean 200 (rods). They had two hy-macs there. They didn’t use any mats. They had the mats on the road, and the trucks came and pick up the mats and carry it away. They were supposed to go 1000 rods. A lot of cattle farmers at the back there, and we wish the dam could reach there,” the farmer said.
The farmer also said that the Chairman of the NDIA had met with a group of farmers from the area to discuss the works needed. He said that the area in question is swampy and that the farmers said that they were willing to wait until the lands were dry for the works to be done.
After listening to the concerns raised, Minister Mustapha questioned the regional NDIA engineer about the status of the works. The engineer informed Minister Mustapha that the contractors had indicated that the remaining areas were swampy. Hence the machines could not go into the area to execute the remaining works.
Minister Mustapha then instructed the NDIA to put a hold on payments for incomplete works, adding that contractors should not tender for works they cannot execute.
“I made some commitments when I was here late last year, and based on those commitments, works were allocated to a number of contractors. Today we are hearing that they only did part of the works, and we will deal with that. Contractors should not tender for works that they cannot execute. I instructed the engineer that if these contractors do not complete the works, they will not be paid. If they cannot complete the works, we will get new contractors to do the works,” Minister Mustapha said.
Another farmer who was present at the meeting also raised issues with the state of the crown dam.
“The conservancy dam at the back, the Belmont Canal, is linked to the conservancy dam where tubing was installed, but the dam needs to be rehabilitated. About three years ago, they ended up patching the dam, but then that didn’t solve the problem because when the heavy rain comes, the lower part keeps overtopping, and it has big breaches. Right now, it has about five breaches there now. When the water comes and cannot pass through the Belmont Canal, it overtops and goes to our side in the farming area,” the farmer said.
Minister Mustapha told residents that a machine would be sent to carry out the necessary rehabilitation works on the crown dam.
“I want to make one commitment here. Within one week, I will send a machine here to carry out all the works on the crown dam,” Minister Mustapha told residents.
Residents also formed a group comprising of representatives from each of the communities in the area. Minister Mustapha tasked the group with consulting with residents from their respective communities on the works needed. A work programme would then be developed so that funds could be made available to execute them based on what is considered a priority.