The very opposition which inexplicably passed the CJIA extension project during the debate on the 2012 Budget is now expected to take a leading role in questioning the decision to engage a Chinese firm to undertake the construction works.
Instead of vetoing this project because of the lack of transparency, the opposition was more concerned with the proposed Marriot Hotel for which no veto was necessary since this project is not utilizing monies from the Consolidated Fund.
Presented with the opportunity to question why there was a secret signing in agreement and to seek further details of the project, the opposition was equally more preoccupied with demonstrating the power that they believe they have under a new dispensation.
They are now turning the National Assembly in a motion- passing body. At each sitting some motion is passed. Each sitting it is motions and more motions. Yet, the opposition is yet to veto any of the major projects that have attracted controversy including the airport extension project. It is also helpless in stopping the proposed Marriot Hotel project.
The very fact that there was a last hour signing of an agreement in Jamaica; that this signing took place without public notification in Guyana; that it occurred just prior to a national election; and that no disclosure was forthcoming about the due diligence that was conducted on the selected contractor; the fact that even before the Budget was approved there had been concerns expressed about the track record of the contractor in Jamaica, should have led to an immediate veto of this project by the opposition using its parliamentary majority.
There is now the opportunity to put things right. There is now the opportunity for the opposition to demand that the government justify the extension works at CJIA and to explain how the extension of the airport is going to benefit the economy and the basis of any such opinion.
Why should Guyana be contracting more than US$150M on one project alone when no case has so far been made out as to the economic benefits that will be forthcoming by this extension?
Guyana has had a terrible experience with the Skeldon Sugar Factory. The factory has been plagued by difficulties and has virtually made redundant the sugar turn around plan which was heavily based on the anticipated superior performance of the factory for which some US$200M was spent.
At this stage it is not clear whether this factory will become a white elephant and whether it will gain a companion in the extension works that are being proposed for the CJIA.
There has been suggestion that this project is going to be investigated. Well what needs to be investigated is not the project since the works have not yet commenced. What needs to be investigated is the decision to enter into this venture and the signing of the contract.
The government needs to make two cases. The first should be about the viability of this extension. Who will it benefit and how will it pay back for itself?, will be the two central questions that the government should answer.
The second case that has to be made, concerns the selection of the contractor. While the government is claiming that it was obligated to use a Chinese contractor, there has been no explanation as to how the contractor was chosen.
The government therefore needs to inform the people of Guyana just what due diligence was conducted and who conducted this due diligence.
The opposition should press for these answers by initiating an immediate meeting of the Economic Services Commission and demand such answers.
If for some reason this cannot be done immediately, then they should pressure the government to establish an inquiry team to provide the answers about the viability of the project and the process used to select the contractor, inclusive of what due diligence was done.
Many years ago Forbes Burnham found himself in an embarrassing situation when a gentleman that his government was having discussions with about establishing an offshore bank in Guyana was found to have legal problems in the United States. The fact that the government was in discussion with this gentleman proved to be embarrassing to the Burnham regime.
It could have opted to ignore the controversy and gone ahead with the deal. It did not. It cancelled all contacts with the man.
It is in the interest of the PPPC Government to do the same and to demonstrate that it is serious about transparency. It should leave no stone unturned to establish that it is necessary to build this extension to the airport and that the right company has been selected.
The present government will win plaudits if it does the right thing even if it means this project has to be put on the backburner.
It is also in the interest of the ruling party to do this. The PPP is not going to win another election in Guyana unless it cleans up its act and the best way of doing this is to give meaning to its stated commitment to public transparency.
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