New Demerara River bridge…barred from protesting…as prequalification tender keeps bidders on a tight leash The Government has begun the process of prequalifying contractors to design and build the new Demerara River bridge at Houston to Versailles. However, firms will be kept on a tight leash, as they will have no choice but to sign a non-disclosure agreement before even being considered.The current Demerara Harbour BridgeAccording to the invitation for prequalification released by the Public Infrastructure Ministry, the list of prequalified contractors will be restricted to three. In addition to the non-disclosure agreement, bidders will be forced to waive a number of rights.These include the right to protest if a bidder believes an unqualified or undeserving contractor was given the nod ahead of everyone else. It was only last year that the Bid Protest Committee was set up as a final arbiter, for this very purpose.Ensuring the Government is protected from any further lawsuits from aggrieved companies, the invitation for prequalification bars bidders from taking legal action against the State regarding the selection procedure, evaluation and the final decision for the tender.It adds that “by participating in this procedure, you (bidder) accept and acknowledge the aforementioned and waive all rights in connection therewith including the right to protest against the decision for the shortlist and the selection of the preferred bidder, to claim damages against the Employer, its director or any of its affiliates and advisors”. Additionally, the bridge designs which firms submit cannot be considered the firms’ property. The invitation states that bidders waive their right to ownership of all information and designs they provide in the prequalification and bidding period.Firms also waive the right to any payment or compensation of costs they would have incurred in tendering, no matter the outcome of the process. As if that is not enough, companies can have their bids refused without any reason having to be provided.According to the Ministry’s invitation to prequalification, “The Employer reserves the right, at its sole discretion and without stating any reason, at any time and in any respect, not to award a contract following the tendering, or to terminate the pre-qualification and/or tender procedure. “Bid protestThe Bid Protest Committee has been in place since June 2016. It hears the valid concerns and complaints of bidders who are dissatisfied with the system and circumstances under which a contract was awarded. Even though the Bid Protest Committee was set up by the Government, it has not been afraid to rule against the Administration.In one high-profile case, the Committee had ruled against the Education Ministry in favour of local juice company Tropical Orchard Products Company (Topco). The company won its appeal to the Committee over the Government’s decision to award its supply contract to another company – from Suriname.Demerara BridgeGovernment has had a $146 million feasibility study carried out on the new Demerara River bridge by Dutch company LievenseCSO. The project team had included officials from the Demerara Harbour Bridge Corporation and the Transport and Harbours Department (T&HD).It is understood that the feasibility study determined the proposed location of Houston-Versailles was the most ideal. It was further noted that the bridge should be a low-level one with a movable part and three lanes.The completion of that feasibility study had paved the way for the next stage, the prequalification of contractors for the construction of the bridge. This process is likely to conclude by October 17.Floating at 1.25 miles, the Demerara Harbour Bridge is a strategic link between the eastern and western banks of the Demerara River. It facilitates the daily movement of a large number of vehicles, people and cargo.The structure was built in the 1970s, but was opened in July 1978 with the expectation of lasting only 10 years. But some 37 years later, it is still floating. It is not without its hiccups, however, as the bridge has to be retracted on a daily basis to facilitate maritime traffic. This has resulted in a rush hour and long traffic lines on either side of the bridge.