If the Minister of Works had done what he is doing now, that is to reveal the background to the signing of the project to extend the runway of the Cheddi Jagan International Airport, it would have avoided much of the controversy that has surrounded this project.
It is only now and because of the pressure that is being brought to bear by Kaieteur News that we are learning that this deal was negotiated with the technical input of a number of persons within the Works Ministry.
This is, however, not necessarily reassuring because earlier there was mention that this project came into being after a senior Chinese official came to the Caribbean waving offers of increased financing for projects.
What is even more worrying, though, is the revelation by the contractor that it was the one who suggested the project. Considering that there was a narrow window of opportunity to access the financing, there may have been an urgency to ensure that Guyana did not lose out on the funding. Thus the haste to sign.
However, it is precisely in such circumstances that one should exercise maximum caution and more so, in light of the experience Guyana has had.
The urgency with which Guyana signed on to this deal is in stark contrast to the lengthy negotiations and extended time it took before Guyana went ahead with other major infrastructural projects such as the Berbice River Bridge and the Skeldon Sugar Factory.
The Berbice River Bridge was long in coming and the new factory at Skeldon should have commenced long before it did.
There is always danger when projects are being rushed because of the need to guarantee financing. Under pressure to ensure that the financing is not lost, mistakes can be made. One can only hope that the best advice was rendered to the government and those who rendered the advice will stand by what they recommended if anything goes wrong.
The government is sticking with this project and if it goes wrong, then the government will have to bear such an eventuality.
It has already found in an embarrassing situation when it was forced to conduct an investigation after questions were raised about the reputation of the parent company of the firm undertaking the work. Had a detailed due diligence been done before signing, this controversy would never have arisen.
This is something that Guyana should never neglect because the cost of a failed project can have a crippling effect of future investment as much as it can push the country into an inescapable debt trap.
The government should learn from what is happening with the Skeldon Sugar Factory. That was the biggest single investment in Guyana and look at the mess that it is in today. Not only are there problems with the factory but these problems are affecting the returns on sugar cane.
Guyana is now burdened with a massive debt and it is not clear whether this factory will ever be able to repay for itself.
In this context, the Minister of Works needs to keep speaking. He needs to explain to the Guyanese people why we need to be spending over US$150 million to extend our runway. He needs to make public the projections that indicate how this money is going to be repaid by increased traffic over and above what we would have gained without an extension to the runway.
The government is bent on going ahead with this project. A project of this nature would have been expected to have been discussed and approved by Cabinet. It is too large a project to have been bypassed. But was the Cabinet meeting at the time this contract was signed? After all, this contract was signed close to last year’s elections.
Where did the approval come from to sign this major project? Was it Cabinet and if so why did it take so long for the details to be made public?
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