When the Timehri airport project was announced back in late 2011, there was anger after Guyana learnt of it through the Jamaica newspapers.
One year later, that US$150M cost though initially rejected as too high, when compared to airports around the region, was accepted as a done deal.
Guyana then resigned itself to the fact that there was little it could do as the Chinese contractor, China Harbour Engineering Company (CHEC), had started work.
At the very least Guyana was getting something that looked good on paper.
The project itself was highly inflated, promising an entirely new terminal building, eight passenger bridges, energy saving roofs, escalators and elevators.
Today, reality has stepped in.
Six years after the sod was turned in March 2013, by the previous administration of the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C), there is not a new terminal to house both departure and arrival areas.
Rather, there is a smaller building and it is only accommodating arriving passengers.
The old terminal has not been torn down. Rather, it has been gutted and reused at the departure area.
Already inflated and with little or no explanations from Government where the money went, a number of contractors are now coming out, insisting that the kind of work done at the terminal building cannot be more than US$5M.
“A few walls were changed at the old terminal building along with a few zinc sheets. Then you have a building that is only accommodating arrivals. It can be built for not more than US$5M,” a contractor that has built several of the city’s properties insisted.
Another New York-based contractor who has worked on several projects has expressed alarm.
“You have a simple way of checking whether you getting value for money. They would have to calculate per square foot. When you are doing construction, everything is about measurements. There is a constant cost. It is impossible for a terminal and runway to cost US$150M and you get what we have at Timehri. Somebody has to go to jail. It is impossible that it would be established that the price is inflated and then you learn that it is being modified to be smaller…all at the same price.
“Guyana in simple layman’s terms has been shafted. The Government has to come clean.”
Several other contractors have expressed shock at what is coming out now. They too are questioning where the money went. There has been deafening silence.
Instead of eight passenger bridges, government has reduced it to four. The project has gone past four years past its deadline now.
On March 23, 2013, former President under the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C), Donald Ramotar, joined then Chinese Ambassador, Zhang Li Min, to turn the sod for a brand new terminal building and longer runway at the Timehri airport.
It was supposed to be finished in 32 months.
More than six years later, the construction is dragging on, and instead of a brand new terminal building with all the bells and whistles, Guyana is a getting way smaller, renovated Cheddi Jagan International Airport (CJIA)…all for the same price.
That project is the currently the largest, on-land infrastructural works.
Airport employees were looking in disbelief as roof sheets were being replaced over the old terminal building and the ‘finishing touches’ to cosmetic repairs inside that have not reduced the hefty price tag of US$150M that Guyanese taxpayers have been saddled with.
The project was given several deadlines. It was initially given to the end of 2015. Then the drop-dead date was at the end of last year.
There were no announcements that China Harbour Engineering Company (CHEC), the Chinese contractor, was given a further extension for the first quarter.
However, the first quarter has now come and gone.
Kaieteur News has, based on complaints, even published a front-page comment calling on Government to come clean on the project, and to explain among other things, how the US$150M was spent.
It is not public knowledge that China Harbour was sanctioned for falling behind on the work.
What is known is that the company came here, was granted significant tax and other concessions on materials and equipment and during that time, started work on the MovieTowne project at Liliendaal, East Coast Demerara for private investors.
That project has been launched.
CHEC then was awarded a contract to build a new complex for Pegasus Hotel, Kingston.
That project has started. The CJIA is still struggling along.
The CJIA expansion project has been saddled with one controversy after the next.
In 2011, Guyana learnt from Jamaican press that the PPP/C government, heading into general elections, had secretly signed a contract with CHEC.
CHEC did not even had the money and there appeared to be little due diligence by authorities to ensure that the cost as submitted by CHEC were realistic.
In fact, analysis of the Bill of Quantities found that CHEC had proposed prices that were up to 1,000 percent higher, and the Government then gladly signed the deal.
Television monitors were priced at over $1.2M when they could have been purchased locally for $300,000 apiece. The airport needed 40 of them. It was one of the many examples.
CHEC did not receive the money until late 2012, a year after the deal was signed.
The company ran into problems early with the runway section of the project after dumping thousands of truckloads of sand on the northern end and then finding that it could not continue because of poor soil conditions.
The Coalition Government on entering office in 2015 halted the project and without explaining, modified the designs and kept CHEC.
Instead of the new terminal building to house the Departure and Arrival areas, the new airport had to make do with a smaller building to accommodate the Arrivals. The old terminal was gutted and renovated.
Where the savings went, the administration did not say and has been silent.
In fact, Minister of Public Infrastructure, David Patterson, had made a shocking disclosure, throwing more shadow on a project that emerged as one of the most scandalous one in recent times of the country.
He said that CHEC has dumped about a million truckloads of sand at about $7,000 apiece.
Truckers say that is where Guyana has been shafted as CHEC was given sandpits located close to the runway and is not saddled with cost to fill the truck trays as would be charged by normal sandpits.
For one million truckloads, CJIA’s expansion has been saddled with a shocking bill of US$35M for sand alone.
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