The buck always stops at the government. When contractors do shoddy work, the government is blamed and it matters not that these contractors are international recruits.
For example, if Guyana secures a loan from the Inter-American Development Bank invariably the Bank provides the contractor. It is the same with loans from India and China. The loan providers insist on their contractor for a successful completion of the project.
However, the international contractors are not always the best and they use money that Guyana has to repay. A classic case was the construction of the Skeldon Modernisation Plant that was Guyana’s largest single investment. The contractor was Chinese and there were complaints about the quality of work.
To this day, the Skeldon Sugar Factory is nothing more than a white elephant. It failed to work to its expectations. The offshoot was that some Guyanese actually collected bribes from the contractor and feathered their nests. It mattered not that the project was a dud because some politicians were happy. They became rich and they did not have to account for the loan.
That is why the Cheddi Jagan International Expansion project has been under the spotlight. The Chinese Government through the Export Import Bank loaned Guyana US$138 million to construct a new terminal building and to expand the runway. Guyana was required to add US$12 million in matching financing.
The project attracted criticisms from the outset although Guyana had recognized that the terminal building had outgrown its capacity. People travelling overseas found out that if there were three flights, there was not enough space for the travelers to book in. It was the same when two or more flights landed.
For one, the reason given was that Guyana would serve as a hub for people travelling from Africa to other parts of the world. Another reason was that a Chinese Vice President was passing through on his way to Jamaica waving money.
Guyana, recognising that it needed an airport project jumped at the money. As a result, the expansion of the terminal was more welcome. But there were queries about some of the costs. A change in Government caused a change in the contract to make it more feasible.
But even before that, there had to be a change in the contract specification. The runway was supposed to be extended in one direction. If there was a feasibility study then it was lacking. After the project got underway, the contractor reported that he would need to expand both ends of the runway because of a serious problem at the intended end.
Recently, a local contractor decided to take a close look at the work. He found that although the airport was supposed to have eight gates for arriving and departing aircraft, aircraft operated by Fly Jamaica cannot use these gates. It would be the same when American Airlines comes. The contention is that these aircraft are too big.
Already the construction is proving problematic. One could be tempted to conclude that the airport has already outlived its usefulness even before it is commissioned. One must wonder whether the contractors recognized the types of aircraft that would be used, the terminal and so build the necessary gates.
But there are even more shortcomings. The local contractor exposed the quality of material being used on the airport. Indeed, the contract does not have specifications about the quality of material to be used in the construction process.
The tiles on the walkway are said to be cheap and not in line with tiles used for heavy pedestrian traffic. The glass paneling on the airport is said to be very cheap and cannot withstand a human body colliding with it. It would be interesting to see the cost attached to the tiling and the glass paneling.
One view is that Guyana is being asked to pay more for the work it is getting. If indeed this is the case, then repairs would be undertaken earlier than any repair should, thus adding to the cost of the airport.
It was the same with the Marriott Hotel, which a mere three years after it opened its doors needs repairs.
The Arthur Chung Conference Centre was a beauty but ten years after it opened its doors, it had to undergo repairs to the tune of more than it took the contractor to build—some US$8 million.
I am not certain about the extent of local input into the airport project but there should be. A local engineer should be on site to inspect the material that is being used to construct the airport and where necessary, demand that the necessary changes are made before it is too late.
Indeed the airport looks good at first glance. It goes without saying that it has an international appearance but appearances could change with the passage of time. We know that the contractor was given payment for some seventy percent of the cost even before he had completed forty percent of the work. And this was before the new government came into office. One reason is that there were immense kickbacks.
There have been audits into many things. There should be an audit of the Cheddi Jagan International Airport terminal. Taking reporters on a tour is not enough because the reporters do not know what they are seeing.
For the sake of Guyana, one can only hope that the local contractor is wrong because no one wants to pay for something substandard.
Traffic has increased to Guyana and the discovery of oil certainly had something to do with this. When oil begins to flow even more people are going to be coming into the country through the airport. The tiled floor is going to take a beating. If indeed the tiling is substandard one can see the need for floor repairs sooner rather than later.
There are questions to be answered and one hopes that these answers would be forthcoming in the coming weeks. After all, the airport is scheduled to be completed by the end of this year. There may be an extension but the completion date cannot be far away.
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