Site of the sinkhole shortly after it appeared. Site of the sinkhole shortly after it appeared.

Paso Express audit reveals irregularities

Anomalies representing 1 billion pesos found in four construction contracts

An audit has uncovered irregularities in four contracts related to the construction of the Cuernavaca Paso Express highway that together represent losses of more than a billion pesos (US $56.2 million) in public funds.

The Secretariat of Public Administration (SFP) said in a press release that it reviewed the actions of three Transportation Secretariat (SCT) departments in relation to the project’s main contract for the widening of the highway as well as others for project coordination, supervision and inspection.

The audit’s objective was to determine whether work included in contracts signed by the SCT and private construction companies had been carried out, paid for and completed in accordance with the established legal framework.

It found at least 22 irregularities mainly related to the tendering process for the project and the awarding of contracts. It also concluded that the sinkhole tragedy in which two men died could have been avoided if the SCT had heeded warnings about a defective culvert.

Among the shortcomings detected were a lack of documentary proof of work that had been completed, failures to complete work that had been agreed to, overpayments and inadequate planning and scheduling of the work.

The SFP audit also determined that neither the SCT nor engineering company SACC acted on recommendations from the Morelos state water commission after it warned about risks associated with a defective drainage system at the 93-kilometer mark of the highway.

Continuing with the project without adopting the recommended measures resulted in the appearance of the sinkhole, the audit found.

The diameter of the culvert was insufficient to cope with the amount of water that flowed through the Santo Cristo Ravine in the rainy season, the audit said, and therefore should have been replaced with one twice the diameter.

Engineering experts also previously said that replacing the culvert would have prevented the sinkhole from appearing.

In total, the contract defects detected in the audit add up to an cost of 1.034 billion pesos to government coffers.

The three audited departments have been given 45 days to respond and/or attend to the findings after which penalties will be imposed if improper conduct is still determined to have occurred.

The SFP is also conducting investigations into three SCT employees who allegedly didn’t act in a timely manner to the warnings made by state and municipal authorities as well as those made by residents, who were aware of problems with the drainage even before construction started.

Documents presented by Morelos Governor Graco Ramírez in his appearance before a senate commission were also examined in the audit and considered evidence that both state and municipal authorities had warned the federal agency about the risks.

Source: Milenio (sp)

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