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Saturday 20 April 2019
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The trouble with EFCL

The Education Facilities Company (EFCL) had a costly schooling in legal procedure last week when it found itself having to first produce a down payment of $2.2 million to Prudecon Ltd, a local project management firm it owed $12.5 million. The EFCL then had to come up with an additional payment of $126,000 to marshals of the High Court to have the truckloads of furniture that were hauled from its offices returned.

It isn't clear how much more education the EFCL needs to get clear that it must not only honour its debts; it must show some enthusiasm to honour those contract disputes which have been successfully brought against it by the courts.

Four weeks ago, the state company barely managed to escape another humiliating levy when bailiffs for Advance Commercial Equipment came to recover $.7 million owed for the supply of cafeteria equipment. The bailiffs left then with a cheque and a promise to pay. Last week it took a flat-bed truck full of executive chairs and other corporate furniture to get the EFCL to honour another court-ordered debt.

It isn't as if the government didn't know this was one of its challenges. According to Education Minister Anthony Garcia, he's known since September 2015 that a "large number" of contractors had not been paid and that many schools were unfinished. Given the needs of the education system, the incoming government should have wasted no time in implementing a plan for correcting the well-documented failings of the state agency responsible for managing the plant and infrastructure of the nation's schools. This was, after all, a state agency accused of running a contract mill and whose PNM appointed chairman, Arnold Piggott, claimed to have resigned in the face of overwhelming corruption.

In 2016, the EFCL was ordered to pay $1 million for the humiliating dismissal of its divisional manager for finance and corporate services. These are expensive errors of procedure in management which do not speak well of the EFCL's capacity to handle its affairs.

The state agency has occasionally demonstrated a capacity to match its diminished resources to its debts. In April the state agency made arrangements to settle its court-ordered $3.2 million debt to Park Square Development Company for work on two schools in El Dorado and Fyzabad on a payment plan.

In December 2017, answering accusations by Arnold Piggott about government interference at EFCL, Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley sought to clarify the difference between interference and intervention.

The EFCL clearly needs an intervention, but it must be one that focuses first on improving its accountability, procurement procedures and the transparency of its operations.

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