CJIA project halted – says Luncheon
- but evidence suggests otherwise
Almost seven months after a controversial US$138M deal was signed to rebuild the Cheddi Jagan International Airport (CJIA) and extend the runway, it has now been revealed that the Chinese contractor has been in Guyana for weeks conducting critical soil tests.
This is despite Government’s disclosure on Wednesday that it had decided to put a hold on the execution of the project until allegations of corruption against China Harbour Engineering Company Limited (CHEC) are investigated.
On Wednesday, Head of the Presidential Secretariat, Dr. Roger Luncheon, speaking with reporters, disclosed that local Chinese Embassy, CHEC and Minister of Transportation, Robeson Benn, are meeting to discuss the concerns that have been raised about that construction company.
CHEC is under fire in Jamaica for being awarded a major road and highway contract without any clear evidence of bidding taking place.
A senior port official in China was sentenced to death last year after being found guilty by a court there for taking bribes from CHEC. In Bangladesh, a son of a former Prime Minister was also sentenced to six years in absentia for laundering monies taken in bribes from the same company.
CHEC and its parent company, China Communications Construction Company Limited (CCCC), have also been barred by the World Bank from participating in any of its roads and bridges contracts until 2017.
The fact that the CJIA deal was signed, secretly, in Jamaica last November, days before former President Bharrat Jagdeo was due to step down because of term limits, and the other revelations of corruptions, have raised serious questions about the project and added pressure for government to review the contract.
Recently, both Jagdeo and the Chinese Ambassador, Yu Wenzhe, said that they were not against a review of the project.
Dr. Luncheon on Wednesday was not sure if the loan has been approved with China’s Export-Import Bank. But he pointed out that even if the loan has been signed, it is a fact that President Donald Ramotar and the Chinese Ambassador have undertaken to place the works on hold “subsequent to a resolution of the allegations of corruption.
“I don’t believe that action is being taken to execute until both the government of Guyana and Chinese authority are satisfied, and have satisfied themselves and have satisfied their principals that those allegations are baseless.”
But, yesterday, several workers from CHEC were testing the soil north of the CJIA’s main runway. Several sand trails have been laid in the swampy area and a rig was at work taking soil samples. There were about eight Chinese and two Guyanese workers in that area.
Nearer to the terminal building, more CHEC workers were seen with another rig and yet other technicians, mostly locals, were involved in taking measurements around that area.
Government has said that the final cost of the CJIA expansion project could go upwards of US$150M, making it the second largest infrastructure project to date in Guyana, after the US$200M Skeldon sugar project.
Yesterday, there were angry residents of Timehri North, a community of almost 1,800 residents. They have received notices to remove. Some of them have been living there for 40 years. Many of them were born there. The one-month deadline to move ends this week.
According to Daniel Fraser, Chairman of the Timehri (North) Community Development Council (TNCDC), a group formed to represent residents and businesses, they are examining legal action.
“We have remained silent until recently. But we want the Guyanese community to know about what is happening,” the official said during a meeting.
The soil testing work has seen over $7M in damage to the cash crop farms, residents said.
“They want us to move. We have light, water, telephone. We are not in the path of the runways. The Timehri prison is even closer to the runway. They spent millions of dollars on it last year. Nobody has told us about compensation,” another resident said.
There are over 30 shops in the area in that community, three churches, a fire station, and living quarters for prison workers.
Several residents living in Timehri North work at the CJIA.
Over three homes will have to be removed if CJIA goes ahead with its plans to relocate.
Residents are claiming that the lands do not belong to CJIA but to the state and the area even falls under a voting division with the Guyana Elections Commission.
Government, in its justification of the CJIA, had said that it was targeting Africa and Asia for its markets.
The project will include a brand new, larger terminal building, a longer runway, CCTV, improved baggage handling capacity and safety features, loading bridges and other amenities.