August 21, 2009
BRAGSA to save government money

It is anticipated that the newly established Bridges, Roads and General Services Authority (BRAGSA) will provide better value for money than did the entities it replaces.{{more}}

The Authority, which came into being on July 1st, 2009, when the Act governing it was proclaimed, will continue all the services previously provided by the General Equipment and Services Corporation (GESCO), but will have additional responsibility for roads and building maintenance, which previously fell under the purview of the Ministry of Transport and Works.

“I am satisfied that Government will be able to spend less money and get more and better work done,” Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves said as he addressed the House of Assembly on Thursday, August 13th.

“We have to get the structures right and the people right,” he said. To this end, he disclosed that FDL Consult Inc., a consulting firm from St. Lucia, had been engaged since November 2008 to assist primarily with the development and creation of the proposed structure of BRAGSA. The consultants presented their final report in June 2009.

The Prime Minister said that BRAGSA will commence operations with a staff of approximately 250 persons, with more to be added as the organization develops. He said of this number, 110 will be monthly paid employees, with the remainder being fortnightly. The number of daily paid workers, he said, would depend on the workload.

He, however, asked that since BRAGSA was a work in progress, that he not be held bound to those numbers. He said that new salary scales have been developed and annual increases will be performance based.

The Prime Minister said that the Authority has been organized into four functional areas: Infrastructure Services, Finance, Human Resources and Administration and Commercial Operations, for the purpose of executing its responsibilities.

BRAGSA’s employees will come from three sources: persons presently employed at GESCO; persons employed at the Ministry of Transport and Works, and new applicants. The Prime Minister said objectivity and independence will be employed when choosing the staff for BRAGSA. He promised that party support will not be one of the factors considered when hiring decisions are being made.

Dr. Gonsalves said of the 371 persons presently employed in the Roads and Buildings Department of the Ministry of Transport and Works, BRAGSA will employ between 120 and 130. “These persons shall be transferred under the ‘Public Officers transfer to Undertakings Act’ so as to maintain their accumulated benefits such as pension,” the Prime Minister said.

“This figure encompasses monthly and daily paid staff and shall form a substantial portion of the core of the organization. Persons not transferred will remain at the Ministry and will be advised of their status consequent upon the restructuring,” Dr Gonsalves said.

Some of these employees will be kept at the Ministry, while others “will have to embrace the issue of voluntary separation,” he said.

On July 1st, when BRAGSA came into being, all 90 persons formerly employed by GESCO, came under the umbrella of BRAGSA. This situation, Minister of Transport and Works Clayton Burgin said, will continue “well into August”, at which point, all former GESCO employees will be severed. Of these, the Prime Minister disclosed, 55 – 60 persons will be re-hired by BRAGSA.

Burgin was also addressing Parliament when he made the disclosure.

The Prime Minister said that persons transferred from the Ministry of Transport and Works or rehired from GESCO will be placed in positions based on competence, qualifications and experience.

The Prime Minister said that while BRAGSA assumed responsibility for all the assets and liabilities of GESCO on July 1st, all GESCO debts have been taken over by Central Government, so as not to burden the new entity. He added that arrangements are being made by Government to pay the $910,000 owed in severance pay to all former GESCO employees, as well as enhanced redundancy benefits and GESCO’s outstanding payables, “so that BRAGSA can re-establish credit with suppliers and have a fresh start.”

The total expenditure for BRAGSA for the period September 1st to December 31st has been budgeted at $11.272 million, with income from commercial activities estimated at $1.312 million. The Prime Minsiter said that Central Government will fund the shortfall of $9.96 million “so that BRAGSA can satisfy its mandate.”

Former Chairman of the National Commercial Bank, Desmond Morgan, is the Chairman of the new entity, while the Authority’s Chief Executive Officer is engineer Brian George. The Manager of Finance is former East Caribbean Central Bank staffer Susan Samuel, while the head of Human Resources is Phyllis James, a former employee of VINLEC.

BRAGSA will operate from 6,728 square feet of rented space in two buildings in Kingstown at a cost of $21,723 a month.

Burgin said it was necessary to rent space for BRAGSA because the GESCO building is “inadequate in several respects.” Burgin said there was insufficient space in the GESCO building for the staff expected to be employed by BRAGSA and the Cane Hall facility, he said, “is in poor condition and requires significant improvement.”

He said he did not anticipate that BRAGSA would occupy rented quarters for very long, as included in the Authority’s three-year operations plan is the establishment of a new headquarters building at Cane Hall.