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The massive sinkhole that formed on the three-month old Paso Exprés in the Mexican city of Cuernavaca on July 12 is bringing unexpected consequences for the country's road infrastructure sector, as official and media investigations have unveiled possible corruption and omissions by certain authorities.
As a direct result of the incident, transport and communications ministry SCT, along with the state offices of national water authority Conagua and civil protection body CNPC, will carry out a comprehensive review to determine the state of all the country's toll and non-toll federal highways.
The announcement was made by transport minister Gerardo Ruiz Esparza (pictured) during a meeting Friday with the delegates of the ministry in the country's 32 states, which was broadcast live.
At the event, Ruiz Esparza also admitted that the sinkhole incident may have been caused by negligence on the part of the consortium that built the highway.
"Based on the preliminary results of the technical review and other investigations that the SCT has been carrying out on the affected section of highway, as well as on the preliminary opinion of independent experts, we have detected possible faults, defects and omissions by public officials and the companies comprising the Aldesa-Eppcor consortium," said the transport minister.
Ruiz Esparza noted that those responsible will face legal consequences if the aforementioned acts are confirmed.
In addition, the minister said that the comptroller unit of anti-graft ministry SFP has requested that the SCT report on the probe that a group of specialist is currently carrying out into the incident, as well as on any other investigation undertaken by the transport ministry.
Moreover, the SFP has called for a comprehensive audit to be done on the 14.5km Paso Exprés highway. This audit will be carried out by consultancy firm KPMG and specialized public works supervising firm Aries, with the aim of determining any faults, errors and omissions, as well as the technical conditions and construction quality of the highway.
Ruiz Esparza also announced that Conagua and the CNPC will be involved in reviewing the final design for the new bridge that is being built to replace the affected section of the highway.
CHANGES TO REGULATORY FRAMEWORK FOR PUBLIC WORKS
The sinkhole incident is also bringing significant regulatory change for future public works to be carried out in the country.
The transport ministry announced that it will implement improved cooperation mechanisms with other government agencies, such as Conagua, when it comes to the development of public infrastructure projects.
The SCT will also said that it will review all the existing technical construction norms with the assistance of national and international specialists. This review is aimed at incorporating climate change concerns - such as the occurrence of torrential rains, increased frequency of hurricanes and the use of new construction materials and technologies - to the existing regulations.
BUILDERS DENY ANY WRONGDOING
Meanwhile, Spain-based Aldesa and local construction firm Epccor, members of the consortium that was responsible for building the highway, said in a joint statement that the project contract did not involve preparing a final design for the highway.
"The scope of our contract for the Paso Exprés only considered the execution of the specified works; it did not include the project design," reads the statement.
The companies argued that all works on the road complied with the instructions given in the design, and that the materials used were those indicated in that document.
EVIDENCE SHOWS POSSIBLE OMISSION BY SCT
Some nine months before the sinkhole incident, when the Paso Exprés highway was still under construction, the Aldesa-Eppcor consortium allegedly submitted two proposals to repair the drain running beneath the highway without receiving a response from the SCT, according to a report by local daily Reforma.
The paper had access to documents showing that the consortium submitted the proposals to local officials of the SCT delegation in Morelos state.
In the aftermath of the incident, the SCT had said that the sinkhole was the result of the erosion in the existing drain.