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Govt insists there’s a stone shortage

Public Works Minister, Robeson Benn (centre) displays a stone sample. He is flanked by other senior experts of his ministry.

The Guyana government on Friday rebuffed claims by BK International, saying that the country has been gripped by a two-year old stone shortage that has now prompted government to encourage importation of the vital construction material.

Public Works Minister, Robeson Benn said government and private construction have been all hit by inadequate stones calculated at a 60 percent supply of total demand according to a study done in May 2013.

“There is a stone shortage in Guyana and it’s only some misguided members of the media and some operators who may have a perverted vested interest would be producing or promoting the line that there is no stone shortage,” he told a news conference at his Wight’s Lane office.

BK International has rejected assertions of a stone shortage by President Donald Ramotar. The company has said that if it could not find ready local markets for its product, it would have to sell it overseas.

Major indicators of a shortage, he cited, are a 20-30 percent price increase in the last year and the importation of stone into Guyana and a mere 40 percent output by all stone quarries. “There are no other reasons one could ascribe or try to suggest that stone is short,” he said. In terms of dollars and cents, officials said the price has moved from GUY$6,000 to GUY$9,000 or even GUY$11,000 when Value Added Tax is added.

Statistics from the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission (GGMC) show that 483,859 tons of quarry products were produced in 2012. Of the declared amounts, 277,103 or 57 percent originated from BK Quarries. The Public Works Ministry extrapolated that BK Quarries, the largest of the five quarries, produced an average of 23,000 tons.

Government says the average monthly demand for aggregates in 2012 was about 97,000 tons for housing and public projects such as roads, and sea and river defence projects. In the sea defence sector, 418,762 tons of boulders were required to adequately complete the work programme for 2012 but only 129,622 tons were supplied. The Public Works Ministry further added that in 2012 the demand for ¾ inch aggregates was approximately 300,000 tons while the amount produced by the quarries was about 21 percent or 63,622 tons of which 32,842 were produced by BK International.

He accused those claiming that there was a stone shortage of having an “oligarchic interest in bullying and controlling the government and the people.” “We don’t have any interest in that. We’ll fight against that. We will make sure that a viable, sustainable, competitive good quality product is supplied for the nation and if it means that our on-time and good quality delivery of the project has to be facilitated by the importation of stone, then so be it,” said Benn.

Government hopes that imported stone would result in the overall price declining to GUY$7,000.
An official of the minister’s team at the news conference, however, explained that locally produced stone was being sold for up to GUY$9,000 per ton VAT inclusive. Imported stone could be sold for as much as GUY$8,700 VAT inclusive

Benn said government was in possession of aerial photographic evidence taken on Wednesday to prove that there were no stone stockpiles at the quarries.

Government also complained about the poor quality of some types of stone, mainly crusher-run for road construction, because the aggregate portion was being removed and leave behind oversize and a “tremendous amount of fines.” That, he said, has resulted in the product being un-useable for road construction.

In apparent reference to BK International, the Public Works Ministry dismissed claims that payments were taking a long time. He said the average time was seven days compared to 19 days for the Japanese funded projects and 20 days for those funded by the Inter American Development Bank (IDB).

He said the imported stones from St. Lucia, Dominica and St. Vincent were sturdy volcanic rocks rather than shale.