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Failures that left customs building overdue and ‘unfit for use’

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View of the white customs building, topped by a small clock tower, across the moat
Customs building: poor practice? Picture by Vince Thompson

Serious failings have delayed the completion of St Helena’s new customs complex and left it unfit for its purpose, an audit has found.

The customs and passenger terminal that dominates Jamestown waterfront will not open before December 2012. “This will be one year behind schedule, which is unacceptable on such a high profile building,” says a report by St Helena Audit Service. 

It finds a “considerable” number of changes to plans means the building does not meet the needs of the customs service.

“The end product is not currently fit for purpose and additional costs will be incurred to rectify the situation. This is due to poor project planning and management.”

The same review found that safety concerns leave the island government exposed to “unacceptable financial risk” from legal action.

A “lack of urgency” is causing a hidden cost in lost staff time that could have been put into other work, it says.

Rear view of the building, in front of the old defensive wall
Structural problems have been found. Picture: Vince Thompson

By the end of June 2012, £777,575 of European Union money had been spent on the work, which included the freight and baggage terminal that opened on time in October 2011.

The remaining £150,000 of the budget is likely to be spent making the customs building useable. If the needs of the customs service had been taken into account, costs would have been lower, says the report.

“Management arrangements are not considered to be adequate and value for money has not been achieved.”

St Helena Government points out that the customs and revenue department was represented on working groups but did not raise concerns about failure to meet its needs.

The audio report also rebukes the senior management for not insisting on monthly written reports on progress from the project manager – a condition of EU funding. “Verbal reports are just not good enough,” it says.

St Helena Government has promised that written updates will be kept in future.

The audit service also finds “poor decision-making” by a working group that was too large. Fifteen members attended its last meeting, including the police, chamber of commerce, tourism association and Solomon & Company.

“It is highly questionable why some of these people were involved in the process,” it says, noting that in large groups, “people do not listen to each other and ideas are ignored or overridden.”

The reports says these failings have “led to questionable decisions being made, which has further led to the delay in the project and the incurrence of additional works.”

A separate Wharf Core Group, with an average 32 members, was also too big.

“It is difficult to understand what value the different groups have added to the project,” says Mr Owen – who has now moved into a new St Helena Government job as Financial Secretary.

“Major improvements are required with regards to how St Helena Government carries out future project management on this scale to ensure that projects are delivered on time and on target.

“It is clear that specialist support and further training is required to ensure that future projects are delivered as planned.”

St Helena Government has welcomed the idea of outside support on large projects.

  • Some delays were caused by the familiar problems with supplies from overseas. For instance, roof sheets could not be fitted because roofing nails failed to arrive, even though they were ordered at the same time.

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