Amid the continuing fallout over the renovated Cheddi Jagan International Airport (CJIA), the latest of which Minister David Patterson has laid the blame on the door of the Opposition, there is strong denial coming now from the latter.
Yesterday, former Minister of Public Works, Robeson Benn, of the People’s Progressive Party (PPP), which is now in Opposition, called for a public investigation into the circumstances that would have seen the Coalition Government deciding in 2015 to reduce the scope of the works on a project that had a fixed-price contract.
The project, since coming to light in late 2011, has been dragging on under three different administrations now, and missing several deadlines.
It was supposed to be finished in December, but there have been no announcements that the controversial Chinese contractor, China Harbour Engineering Company (CHEC) has been given more
time, although a reduced workforce is there at the Timehri facility.
On Monday, Minister of Public Infrastructure, David Patterson, in a statement posted on his Facebook page, said that the blame for what Guyana is getting should be laid at the feet of the Opposition – the PPP- which lost the 2015 general elections. He said that on entering government in 2015, the Coalition Government after assessing the project was faced with three tough choices – scrap the project; plug more money or work with the remaining sums.
He also said that CHEC worked 15 months without an independent supervising consultant and that up to 2015, the Chinese contractor had claims of up to US$90M for just seven percent of the work done.
The entire project was pegged at US$150M. It is the largest ongoing project on land that is being carried out by the Government of Guyana.
Last evening, Benn, who was at the helm of the Public Works Ministry in 2011 when the contract was signed, in his response to Patterson, explained that Guyana entered into a fixed-price contract with CHEC for the expansion of the CJIA. The idea was to address the clear and still present issues of congestion, aged airport terminal and safety, which beset the operations, at a time when there was a significant increase in passenger and aircraft traffic.
A US$30M INCREASE
Benn said that Chinese contractor sought to increase the price by another US$30M.
“Payment was made on the usual 30% mobilization advance to CHEC, which was bonded. Initial delays in project start-up occurred as CHEC sought to extract an increase in the project sum by US$30M. Their effort was refused, based on international contracting rules for Fixed-Price Contracts and the considered view that the sought increase was not warranted, anyway.”
He said that the project supervision fell, initially, under the Works Service Group (WSG) of the Ministry of Public Works until an international supervision consultant, MMM Group, in association of CEMCO, was awarded the supervision consultancy.
“This WSG resort was not unusual, and natural and necessary in the circumstances, to maintain project schedules. Awaiting project start-up until the process of obtaining a consultancy would have imposed additional time delays on the project,” Benn said in his response.
The former minister insisted that he will stand by the integrity of the supervision undertaken then by the Ministry’s engineers who did daily visits and had weekly project meetings in order to ensure timely initiation of the project.
He said that the contractor had examined the project site before the agreement was signed in 2011.
“The contractor, CHEC, had, and took, the opportunity to examine the project site before entering into a Design and Build Fixed-Price Contract.”
With regards to sand, Benn said that it was agreed that it had to be provided free of royalties, which are costs that would have been charged back to the project, anyway.
“Sand provided was designed to allow for placement of an engineered fill, at levels of compaction and stability to provide for a safe, stable runway extension.”
With regards to the decision to abandon parts of runway extension on the north and rather take to the south of the airport, the former minister had this to say:
“Detailed geotechnical examination of the planned northern extension by CHEC resulted in their advice that the entire length of fill to the north would be excessive and a decision was made to share the 1,000 metres extension between the north and south of the runway – 50:50. This was taken as the optimized solution to the issue as extension of 1,000 metres to the south would have, indeed required more fill based on elevation and depth of the swamp sediments – pagasse and soft Demerara clay as the river was approached beyond 500 metres of extension.
Benn pointed out that in fact, the soil conditions beyond 500 metres on direction of the extension were unsuitable because of volume of excavation and fill required.
“By 2015, performance schedules of many national contracts were in difficulty because of budgetary cuts imposed by the then APNU and AFC Parliamentary Opposition.”
The Opposition official said that it is now evident that the scope of this project seems to have been tremendously modified, with the effect of impairing the project’s original intended validity and integrity. It was noted that a stand-alone new terminal building has now become an Arrival Hall addition to the old terminal building.
“The boarding bridges are now said to be four eventually, instead of the eight planned, along with now smaller and less durable aircraft parking aprons…”
Another modification was that the the mezzanine floor with escalators to a viewing gallery had been cut out from the construction and that the building’s footprint and actual total square footage are now less than what was contracted for.
“It is obvious that the minister is making an attempt, utilizing his Facebook Page and friends, to assign blame elsewhere for failings on the project after being responsible for the project for almost four years.”
Benn said that the Minister also seems to present a conflicting scenario in his postings – that is, he is not making payments on payment certificates at the time of ‘salvaging’ the project.
“This begs the obvious question, where did the money go, if not into payments on a reduced project scope? Several high-level and well published visits were made by the Ministers extolling the virtues of the project, even while commissioning timelines were being repeatedly shifted.”
Benn was critical that the minister had to put such a statement on Facebook for the people of Guyana to see.
“We are, apparently, now being asked to prepare ourselves, via Facebook, to accept less for more in the result along with experiencing excessive and prolonged delays related to this project. In the circumstances, I support calls for a full-fledged public investigation into how a Fixed-Price Contract could be subject to changes in scope and intent.”
The smaller airport terminal had raised significant questions and has left the current Government and previous PPP administration in an embarrassing position.
For US$150M, the airport should have been far better than the one that Guyana is getting.
An analysis of the contract document by Kaieteur News and a team of engineers had found the prices which were proposed by CHEC were highly inflated, sometimes by several hundred percent.
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