Govt uncertain over EFCL's future

The Education  Facilities Company (EFCL) headoffice located on Long Circular Road, Maraval. - ROGER JACOB
The Education Facilities Company (EFCL) headoffice located on Long Circular Road, Maraval. - ROGER JACOB

THERE is uncertainty over the future of the Education Facilities Company Ltd (EFCL).

This follows reports of company workers complaining of not having been paid for two months and debts owed by EFCL to contractors.

Repeated efforts to get clarification from the company on these issues have so far been unsuccessful, with EFCL officials not responding to numerous calls and e-mails.

Education Ministry officials have also declined to comment on the status of EFCL.

One official suggested questions should be directed to the Finance Ministry. Efforts to contact officials at this ministry for comment about the situation at EFCL were also unsuccessful.

But sources said the company's future is being carefully considered, given the challenges it has been facing. One source claimed one option could be to see how best to settle any outstanding debts EFCL has and possibly wind up the company after that.

Another said EFCL was particularly challenged during the tenure of the UNC-led People's Partnership (PP) coalition and this may have contributed to its current predicament.

A third source said no decision has been made on EFCL as yet.

The EFCL was established as a special-purpose state enterprise on March 11, 2005, under the Patrick Manning administration. The company's functions involved repairing and maintaining early childhood education centres, primary and secondary schools.

Since its establishment in 2005, a total of 133 new school facilities have been constructed and outfitted. These include 85 ECCE centres, 40 primary and eight secondary schools. Over the same period, EFCL has done over 8,000 repairs and maintenance jobs.

But it has faced some challenges during its existence.

In July 2018, EFCL agreed to settle a $12.4 million debt owed to a local project-management firm, Prudecon. Before this happened, High Court marshals levied on the EFCL, taking away truckloads of furniture from its offices in Maraval. Prudecon did engineering design work for several ECCEs for EFCL.

At a news conference at the ministry in Port of Spain in July 2018, then education minister Anthony Garcia said a number of EFCL contractors were still waiting to be paid.

"We have inherited this situation,” he said, “because when we came into office in September 2015, we inherited a situation where a large number of our contractors were not paid and a large number of our schools were left unfinished. This is what compounded the situation.

"We are trying our best to ensure that our contractors are paid and we meet our commitments."

In May 2019, the Government said it had to settle nearly $2 billion in debt, legal costs and claims by contractors against the EFCL.

In July last year, Benchmark Construction Ltd (BCL) filed a lawsuit against EFCL over its payment for repairs it had done to schools.

In February, GM Transport Company Ltd levied on the EFCL for $1.2 million owed for renovations to four schools in 2015.

Responding to a question in the Senate in July on behalf of Education Minister Dr Nyan Gadsby-Dolly, Leader of Government Business Clarence Rambharat said, "The EFCL is managing a massive debt burden.”

He said, “The situation was brought on by an overly ambitious and unsustainable school construction programme embarked on the year 2010-2015, with several large contracts awarded in the last two years of the former administration (UNC-led PP coalition) tenure.”

Rambharat said the Education Ministry took practical steps to ensure the continuance of its programmes for reconstructing and repairing the schools infrastructure, "by transferring the agency for essential product project-management services from the EFCL to the National Maintenance Training and Security Company Ltd (MTS).”

He added that MTS has been doing required project-management services on behalf of the ministry Rambharat said maintenance and repairs to ECCEs, primary and secondary schools are continuing.

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