Let’s bring the gravy train of corruption to a screeching halt now!
In response to SN’s scathing editorial, “CHEC,” (June 18), I couldn’t help noting the writer’s recognition of the Jagdeo regime’s failure to exercise due diligence before secretly signing with the Chinese government-owned Chinese Harbour and Engineering Corporation (CHEC) for the US$138M expansion of the Cheddi Jagan International Airport (CJIA).
That failure was in stark contrast to the ex-President’s call on the current President to review the CHEC-CJIA deal in light of information from the World Bank that CHEC was barred from participating in World Bank (WB)-funded projects until 2017 for engaging in corrupt practices.
Whether President Donald Ramotar will heed his predecessor’s advice and review or even rescind the project is left to be seen, but let me zero in very quickly on the issue of corruption and why any rescinding of the deal could prove difficult if not impossible, if the deal was mired in corruption.
From the Jagdeo regime’s side of the discussion, we can readily conclude that it has been overtaken with corruption, with numerous examples being detailed in the private media over the years. From CHEC’s side, we only learned about its alleged involvement in corruption after word out of Jamaica revealed that the WB had barred CHEC from WB-funded activities for corruption-related reasons.
Prior to this corruption disclosure, it was Jamaica that also revealed the CHEC-CJIA deal was actually struck mere days before Guyana’s election. Now, even if we wanted to doubt the WB’s claim, because it is the polar opposite of the Chinese, damning information has since emerged that in November 2011, former Chairman of China’s Hebei Port Group, Huang Jianhua, was sentenced to death for taking bribes from the China Harbour Engineering Company (CHEC) and its parent company, Communications Construction Company Ltd. (CCCC), among other entities.
CCCC, according to investigations by Chinese authorities, gifted Huang a house worth more than 4 million yuan (US$628,000) after he arranged for them to win a bid in 2008 for the construction project at the Huanghua Port Wharf in China.
If that were an isolated incident, one could overlook it, but then there was Arafat ‘Koko’ Rahman, a son of the former Prime Minister of Bangladesh, Khaleda Zia. Rahman was accused of taking bribes from CHEC and the Bangladesh subsidiary of Germany’s industrial giant Siemens AG, for helping them win Government contracts during his mother’s 2001-2006 premiership.
Last year June, he was jailed for laundering millions of dollars in bribes taken from CHEC, and Judge Mohammad Mozammel Hossain said in his verdict that Rahman was guilty of smuggling more than 200 million takas (US$2.089M) to Singapore. The judge also fined Rahman 190 million takas (US$1.6M) and asked authorities to get the smuggled money returned.
Now, given that we know the Jagdeo regime was blatantly corrupt and CHEC was identified as corrupt, especially in the area of bribery, and given the secrecy surrounding the signing of the CHEC-CJIA deal worth US$138M to Guyanese taxpayers, Guyanese can only hope bribery was not involved here. I am not implying bribery was involved, but against the background of two corrupt entities engaging in a secret deal worth US$138M, how can Guyanese know if the deal was above-board?
Against the foregoing, I completely concur with the aforementioned SN editorial’s summation: “The Ramotar administration – despite the involvement of some of its Cabinet members in this deal – can well say it needs to pull back from this CHEC contract to review all of the relevant factors. This contract is definitely the result of the worst forms of governance applied by the Jagdeo administration and should be put on hold.”
When we consider that 1) the Jagdeo regime also went to China in 2010 and secured a US$500M loan for the Amalia Falls Hydro-Electric Project (AFHEP), which has also been mired in cesspool of confusion, and 2) the Chinese botched the Skeldon Modernization Plant we borrowed US$200M to modernize, and is fraught with problems, we have a right to ask: what if the cost-benefit result of the CJIA investment or the AFHEP investment mirrors the result of the Skeldon Modernization investment? Among the three – Skeldon, AFHEP and CJIA – that’s US$830M in loans that must be repaid by Guyanese.
Far from being exceedingly pessimistic, I am simply saying that all developmental projects must be the direct result of multiple studies showing strong demand and buttressed by a prudent cost-benefit analysis. Guyana, therefore, should not be grabbing what it can simply because China is flush with money to invest in Third World countries as part of its global political ambition to become a superpower. If not, then Guyanese could well be financially obligated to China for the next generation for all these loans for projects not carefully thought out.
For the record, I am all in favour of a modernized CJIA if comprehensive transportation studies back the need for this and a cost-benefit analysis supports it, but we need at least a preliminary estimate and an invitation to contractors to publicly bid for the project. The CJIA expansion should never become a political wish-list item of the ex-President or even an opportunity for personal enrichment of Guyanese officials. Let’s bring the gravy train of corruption to a screeching halt now!