Opinion: Quality roads

POSTED: 08/5/11 1:03 PM

We are nowhere near the quality that is necessary, Vice Prime Minister Theo Heyliger said yesterday during the Council of Ministers’ press briefing. Heyliger was referring to the quality of St. Maarten’s roads.
There are two companies on the island involved in road building: Windward Roads and MNO Vervat. When a government project comes up, both companies submit a bit and the work will obviously go to one of them. There are no alternatives.
The government is dissatisfied with the quality of the work these companies deliver – at least, that’s what we gather from the vice prime minister’s remark – puts all parties involved in a rather awkward position.
The road builders finds themselves caught with their pants down, so to speak, because their prime principal is accusing them of delivering sloppy work. The government is with its back against the wall, because it has only two contractors to choose from.
Heyliger said that he is now thinking about a system whereby the work of the road builders will be evaluated. And if they don’t deliver the expected quality, they will not be allowed to bid on the next project.
Hmmm. Let’s think about this a bit.
Let’s assume that Windward Roads screws up on its next project. The government bans the company from bidding on the next project. At MNO Vervat, management will put aside its calculators, stick a finger out of the window to feel from which way the wind blows, and write down a number: the uncontested price for the next project.
Imagine now, that MNO Vervat would screw up that project too. Will Windward Roads in that case get the opportunity to “bid” on the next project, and be allowed to do this without competition?
It is easy to see how such an evaluation process combined with a possible ban will benefit the road builders in the long run, and not the government or the people who are condemned to use these sloppy roads.
Minister Heyliger’s remark was triggered by a question whether the government is getting what it is paying for from the road builders.
We’re not sure about all this, but it could of course be that we are getting exactly what we are paying for. In the end, it all comes down to money. We’re pretty sure that both companies are quite capable of building super roads of near indestructible quality. So why don’t they?
Maybe the companies simply build roads based on specifications issued by the ministry. Different specifications, we imagine, give different results. Think about an omelet: the more eggs you use, the bigger the omelet. The more asphalt a road builder uses, the tougher the road surface becomes.
Is there a way out of this pothole-infested quagmire? We remember with gusto from The Construction Cesspit (De Bouwbeerput) by Joep Dohmen and Jos Verlaan how road builders used to take the government for a ride back in the late nineties – not even fifteen years ago.
Dohmen and Verlaan revealed that Windward Roads and Koop Tjuchem (now MNO Vervat) split 900,000 guilders between them, the difference between the contract price and the real cost for building Link 1, phase 2, the road from Philipsburg to the airport.
Are things different today? That’s of course possible. But when there is so much money up for grabs, it is hard to imagine how the players in this lucrative market would change their ways. There is also the matter of pay offs. Cees Lutgendorff, the founder of Sint Maarten Roads NV, a company that was active in St. Maarten from 2002, told Dohmen and Verlaan about the ten percent arrangement. For repairing a quay wall at the graveyard in Cape Bay Lutgendorff said that he had paid “via our middleman Silvio Matser” ten percent to Sarah Westcot and the Democratic Party.
The contract was worth 1.3 million guilders, so the ten percent amounted to 130,000 guilders. Wescot, our current Prime Minister denied to the authors that she accepted money from the company, but that her party, like other parties, accepted donations.
Against this background it is no wonder that the quality of our roads does not meet expectations. However, we could be completely wrong. Maybe there is no ten percent arrangement, maybe there never was.
But as long as potholes keep popping up on our roads like teenagers at a Justin Bieber concert, many people will keep wondering whether all the money the government paid for the job was really spent on road building material.

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