Local contractors accuse government of intimidation

The Association of Building and Civil Engineering Contractors of Ghana (ABCECG), on Friday accused the government and other contract givers of subtly intimidating local contractors into continuously allowing themselves to be handed a raw deal. “The truth is that local contractors live in fear because government and other employers intentionally put fear in us – that is the fact,” said Mr. Kwame Afreh, National President of ABCECG. Mr. Afreh was speaking to journalists in Accra about proposed amendments to the Government of Ghana Conditions of Contract for Building Workers (GGCCBW), which he described as “not business friendly.” Several government-funded projects across the country, particularly those carried out by local contractors, remain abandoned largely due to negligence of part of government who is the financier. Whereas government blame the situation on lack of funds and unsatisfactory work done by local contractors, it also remains a fact that projects handled by foreign contractors had been fully paid for by the same government. Meanwhile, about 90 per cent of debtors to banks across the country are local building contractors, who borrowed money to undertake state projects but had since not been paid, he added. Mr. Afreh said whereas foreign contractors were usually paid their contract sums readily in accordance with contract terms, local contract contractors tend to be treated differently. “My company for instance has completed a state funded contract and for the past two and half years we have not been paid,” he said. He noted that several local contractors like him could not complain in public and could not go to court because in their contract document there was a question that sought to find out whether they had ever engaged in litigation with past employers and contract givers. “If you answer yes to that question you will not be given the contract and so most contractors just accept the raw deal without complain in order that they can keep getting contracts,” he said. Mr. Afreh said even though contract conditions enjoined government to make advance payment to contractors, government-appointed project managers usually inserted ‘N/A’ or not applicable, without the consent of the contractor, at the portion on contract forms that talked about advance payment. He said the membership of the Association was about 1000 but, until recently, several of the members did not want to be seen as associating themselves with the group for fear of victimisation, adding that there were several other local contractors who had not joined the group at all for the same reasons. “We have remained silent for too long and we are suffering but we can’t also go to court to demand our rights because of the fear that our businesses will run down with the change of political regime,” he said. Mr. Afreh noted that several contractors had, for instance, gone out of business with the change of government. He noted that in the face of the current situation, clauses in the GGCCBW needing review included Clause 42.2 – vetting of contractors valuation; Clause 43.1 – payments; Clause 48 – retention; Clause 50 – advance payment; Clause 59.2 – payments upon termination; and Clause 60.1 – property. Mr. Afreh said since 1966 the GGCCBW had not seen much review except a brief review by the Public Procurement Authority (PPA) in 2003. “Previous efforts by the local contractors association towards a review...became abortive due to financial constraints – it is therefore a great relief to us, when the BUSAC Fund accepted our application to provide the grant for this advocacy programme,” he said. He said the Association had already submitted its proposed amendments of the PPA, adding that if that did not yield any results, “we will go to lobby Parliament until something is done.” The local contractors are seeking amendments that would ensure the vetting of contractors’ valuation to warrant prompt payment of contract sums; early release of advance payment on contract sums; and for retained funds to be paid on completion of projects to be put in investment saving to generate interest and prevent loss of value over time. They are also seeking to enjoin government and other contract givers to pay interest on contract sums paid late, and commitment to a retention bond instead of fiscal cash deduction from their contract sums. The contractors also want fair treatment with respect to government-led contract termination and a deletion of the clause which said all equipment on project site at the termination of a contract remained the property of the employer, that is government.