“The story as to how this airport rose and fell is a dive into a quagmire of national politics, geopolitical manoeuvring, raw corruption, and the hunger of China to invest in massive infrastructure projects along.”- Forbes
Kaieteur News, in previous years, unearthed and exposed significant shenanigans of
foreign companies and how they raped Guyana of its natural resources. This led to action taken by the APNU+AFC Party shortly after it came into office.
The Government tightened several areas for the protection of the nation’s patrimony. Efforts in this regard were commended.
But whilst it is true that the duty of a government is to protect the country’s human and natural resources; a government is only made up of human beings, not supernatural all-knowing creatures. So it is also true that the government may not always know the danger the country is facing.
With that in mind, when Kaieteur News heard of ExxonMobil and its modus operandi around the world, a decision was taken to enlighten ordinary citizens as well as politicians about who ExxonMobil really is. The research was detailed and the newspaper did a series called “What Guyana needs to know about ExxonMobil”. The country is still digesting the four articles within that exposé.
Like ExxonMobil, China has a patterned way of operating in various countries around the world. Again, Kaieteur News did its research and will over the next few days, present you with the facts on how countries are now, in local parlance, ‘feeling the squeeze’ as a result of blind partnership with China.
It is important to note that this newspaper is in no way anti-China, anti-ExxonMobil or anti-investment. This newspaper is pro-Guyana.
Kaieteur News finds it imperative that people pay keen attention to Guyana’s natural resources, with the aim of securing a bright future for the children and grandchildren of the future. Indeed, like the British oil expert, Dr. Perry Stanislaus pointed out, decisions made now will impact generations to come.
Guyana, like the rest of the world, is experiencing difficult economic times. That is why the country needs to pay keen attention to the management of its natural and financial resources.
Guyana already owes China US$152M. Indeed, this is a huge sum by Guyana’s standards. More money is to be disbursed from China to Guyana before the year is out. Therefore, the debt will be higher in a few months.
However, there are countries around the world that have racked up much larger debts with China. Countries like Sri Lanka, Angola, Nigeria, Sudan and several Caribbean jurisdictions owe China billions of US dollars and are struggling to repay. Forbes, BBC and other reputable media have reported on the “debt trap” that China has set for these countries.
Does Guyana want to find itself in such a trap? That fate has to be decided by the politicians.
Let us now look at what China did to Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka relied heavily on China for loans to execute many infrastructural projects, most of which have proven to be a waste of money.
Sri Lanka owes China, its largest lender and trading partner, more than US$8B.
China made the interest rate on some monies it lent to that nation to be as high as 6.3 percent. The interest rates on soft loans from the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank (ADB) are only 0.25–3 percent.
While China continues to call Sri Lanka a “friend” the people of that country are not smiling. In fact, they are beginning to curse the day their government took a penny from the superpower to fund the failed projects.
The first project to be scrutinized in this series is Sri Lanka’s second international airport.
The Mattala Rajapaksa International Airport (named after the former President) was marketed to be used as a hub for Asian airlines.
Does this sound familiar? Guyana was sold a similar story. Can you recall the then Minister of Public Works, Robeson Benn saying that Cheddi Jagan International Airport (CJIA) will be used as a hub too? He gave this as a reason for the US$150M CJIA modernisation project. The only difference is that Guyana’s airport is supposed to be used as a hub for African airlines. On to now, CJIA’s website has it that the airport, after modernisation will be used as an “international hub for aircraft movement.”
Did the Sri Lankan airport become a hub? No! Not even by a stretch of an imagination.
The BBC reported that just about five flights leave the Mattala Rajapaksa International Airport on a weekly basis serving just a few hundred passengers a year. This is a far cry from the just over a million passengers that the airport was built to serve.
According to Sri Lankan government data, in 2014, roughly 3,000 flights to the airport served just 21,000 passengers, a rate of just seven passengers per plane. The government lost big time.
Forbes described the airport as “the world’s emptiest.” It has become a burden to Sri Lanka with a high maintenance cost. Only China benefitted and is now set to take over the airport.
Guess which company erected the Sri Lankan airport? It was China Harbour Engineering Company (CHEC). That is the same company that is working on the expansion of CJIA.
The airport has a 12,000 square meter terminal building, 12 check-in counters, two gates, and a runway long enough to handle the largest commercial jets. It has everything, except passengers.
Forbes reported that other than the absence of passengers, the airport was fully operational, “despite the lack of a viable reason for it to be.” The airport’s original 600-person staff has been cut down to 300.
Forbes said “The story as to how this airport rose and fell is a dive into a quagmire of national politics, geopolitical manoeuvring, raw corruption, and the hunger of China to invest in massive infrastructure projects along.”
The modernisation of CJIA was also smeared in corruption. The APNU and AFC opposition voted against billions of Guyana dollars allocated for it in 2013 during the reign of the PPP/C. The budget cut resulted in a stall of works. Eventually, the PPP forged ahead and continued construction of the project and so the CJIA expansion project was inherited by the APNU+AFC government which had no choice but to continue the project.
After several delays, the CJIA expansion project is expected to be completed by year end.
However, based on lab work done by the Ministry of Public Infrastructure, this newspaper reported that CHEC is using substandard material on the airport.
According to Wikipedia, just about US$209M was spent on the Mattala Rajapaksa International Airport with $190 million provided by the Chinese government via the Exim Bank of China. The source of US$130M for Guyana’s US$150M CJIA modernisation project was also the Exim Bank of China.
Experts think that the costs for both the Guyana and the Sri Lanka projects were overstated.
This calls to mind the expensive toilet bowls scenario. Kaieteur News reported on a section of the contract Guyana signed with CHEC that indicated that 69 toilet bowls were needed for the new terminal building. Each would cost US$2,121.06 or $424,212 each. This worked out to US$146,353.14 or over $29M for the 69 bowls.
The then government issued a statement on the report by this newspaper. It said that the contract signed was a “lump sum” one for that section of the contract.
The government said that the stated costs of the bowls included the costs of the sewer lines and cubicle doors.
Is this the sort of corruption that Forbes spoke about as in the case of Sri Lanka?
Now that Guyana is burdened with the US$130M debt, the question is, will this country end up like Sri Lanka?
To be continued…
Information was sourced from: BBC, Forbes, East Asia Forum and Airport Technology websites
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