— President says Guyana will not accept work done on CJIA
— commits to taking ‘necessary’ actions
By Navendra Seoraj
GLARING inefficiencies and shortcomings in the US$150 million Cheddi Jagan International Airport (CJIA) expansion project have forced President Irfaan Ali to say that Guyana will only accept work as was outlined in the original contract and will not accept the unsatisfactory work done so far.
Expansion of the airport has been ongoing for almost seven years, moving from one deadline to the next. But, from preliminary inspections and audits, it is evident that the country did not receive value for its money.
In light of this, President Ali has hinted that an investigation is likely to be launched into the entire airport expansion project.
In 2011, the then People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) administration and China Harbour Engineering Company (CHEC) had inked a $31.2B (US$150M) contract for the CJIA expansion.
This project was due for completion in December 2017, but the Scope of Work and deadline was reviewed by the former A Partnership for National Unity + Alliance For Change (APNU+AFC) Government, and a deadline of December 31, 2018 was set.
The project, under the PPP/C, was signed as an agreed package, including design, building and handing over. But, over US$144 million has already been expended on the project, and the work is unsatisfactory.
The initial project, before being reviewed by the past administration, included the extension of the runway from 7,500 to 10,800 feet, so as to accommodate the BOEING 747-400 aircraft. It also included eight passenger boarding bridges, among other things. Through the revised contract, only four air bridges were installed, because no new building was built for the apron.
As part of the original contract, the CHEC was expected to tear down the existing terminal building, and construct a new one which could accommodate eight air bridges. But what the new contract actually did was facilitate the refurbishing of the terminal building, and installation of only four air bridges. There is also a myriad other issues plaguing the facility, including a malfunctioning sewerage system.
President Ali visited the facility to have a first-hand look of the work, and enquire about the specificities of the project, but was met with insufficient answers and unsatisfactory work which he condemned.
“I am holding everyone responsible; the contractor, the consultant, the project management team… This is not acceptable for the Guyanese people. In this current position, it is very clear, from all that I have seen and heard, and from all the questions asked, it is very clear that something is horribly wrong. The right decision at this moment is that we cannot accept this, “President Ali said, following an update from the project manager of the CJIA Expansion Project, Carissa Gooding.
The Head of State, who was joined by Ambassador of China to Guyana, Cui Jianchun, also met with representatives of CHEC and the project consultant on Monday.
The President, in questioning the project consultant and manager, asked about key issues related to the original contract, and what was included in the revised Scope of Works. Specifically on this topic was the question of what grounds was the decision taken to omit aspects of the initial project, to which Gooding responded by saying that those decisions were taken by the past administration, and were managed by another project manager.
She, however, confirmed that certain aspects of the project were indeed omitted, and funds were diverted to other areas. In response, President Ali said it is evident that those adjustments were targeted for a ‘specific’ outcome.
In one instance, the CHEC representative also informed the Head of State that after the contract was signed, there was other work which needed to be done following an assessment.
President Ali, however, responded firmly by saying: “No-no! This is a fixed-price contract, and that is not how it works! A fixed-price contract means that you examine all the works which have to be done before you sign on to the contract.”
To his amazement, the President was also informed that the country paid US$6.7 million for ‘cost delays’ when the contractor has not paid a cent for their delays.
“Who decided this? We are paying them for cost delays, but the contractor has not been asked to pay us for their delays!” said a visibly livid President Ali, as he continued to demand answers from the technical personnel attached to the project.
In another case, it was said that the contractor had made a few mistakes, but it would not be feasible to redo the work. But, President Ali, who was evidently annoyed, said the contractor needs to correct his mistakes and stand the costs.
Many of the responses from the technical personnel did not sit well with the President, and he even concluded that everything associated with the core function of the airport is ‘non-functional.’
He said: “This tells a damning story; there are more questions than answers from this presentation.”
From what he observed and heard, the President maintained that this cannot be accepted by the people of Guyana.
“We can’t accept it, so it has to be fixed,” the President said, adding that the project has to be delivered in accordance with what is in the agreement.
President Ali also said he is committed to taking whatever action necessary to ensure that Guyana gets value for its money.
Even Ambassador Jianchun agreed that the provisions in the original contract have to be honoured. President Ali, in prior remarks, pointed to the importance of a joint approach to the realisation of the project.