–AFC commits to releasing modified airport designs
–insists corruption is a cultural problem in Guyana
The smaller faction in the coalition government, the Alliance For Change (AFC), on
Friday said it has no problem lobbying Minister of Public Infrastructure, David Patterson, to release the modified airport designs.
The party has also admitted that Guyana faces severe challenges in the fight against corruption.
Minister of Public Telecommunications, Cathy Hughes, also Vice-Chairperson of AFC, made the comments on Friday during the party’s press conference.
The press conference was being hosted by Hughes and executive member, former Minister of Business, Dominic Gaskin.
The issue of the corruption fight was brought to the fore recently in a statement by the Coalition Government celebrating four years since the historic May 2015 general elections which saw them entering office.
According to the Coalition Government, it is still facing hurdles in the fight against corruption.
Questioned about the AFC stance, Gaskin admitted that one can never completely eradicate corruption.
“…And certainly it remains a problem in Guyana. I don’t think we, as a government, are denying that there is still a lot of work to be done…I think we acknowledge that there is still a lot of work to be done. I believe that corruption has been reduced over the last few years …There is less tolerance for corruption at the highest level and I believe there is a lot more transparency and I think there is more accountability.”
According to the party, the things that are being reported today and disclosed, were things that were not known about four or five years ago.
“As I said, that is a work in progress and there remains a lot of work to be done.”
The officials challenged the private sector, media and other persons to report persons who are involved in corruption.
Gaskin acknowledged that citizens are reluctant to do so for many reasons.
With regards to the ongoing US$150M project at the Cheddi Jagan International Airport, Minister Hughes said that the party has “no objections at all” in asking her colleague of the AFC, Minister Patterson to release the modified plans.
In 2015, the Coalition Government entered office, assessed the project and made modifications.
It was never announced but travelers noted a smaller terminal and modifications to the existing one.
The Coalition Government, after months of pressure to explain, disclosed that the previous administration made several missteps and mismanaged what is the country’s biggest infrastructural project.
When they entered office in 2015, Minister Patterson said, they found a mere seven percent of the work done with the Chinese contractor, China Harbour Engineering Company, laying claims to more than half of the money- US$90M.
The works were halted and modifications done to ensure the project was completed, government said.
However, the Opposition insisted that Government illegally modified the fixed-price contract with the Chinese contractor.
State auditors are about to start investigations into the project with reports by this newspaper last week indicating structural issues leading to flooding in certain key areas of the airport.
In fact, it was reported, an Immigration section had to cease operations because of flooding.
However, the Coalition Government is not taking full blame.
According to Hughes on Friday, it would be useful to understand that it was a project started by the previous administration since 2011.
While there are criticisms that this administration is continuing projects by the previous one, it is a fact that they were all incomplete ones, she said.
She noted that it was only recently that Opposition Leader, Bharrat Jagdeo, admitted that certain aspects of the airport project, including a new parking lot and cargo area, were all left out from the original designs.
“In fairness, because of these exclusions, they took the project and naturally had to modify it. And my colleague minister, Patterson, would be on top of any remedial works or any investigations as to why there might have been flooding. So we would raise it (the modified designs) with him and we would ask him to respond to you on that.”
The modified designs would be helpful in determining costs and what went wrong to cause Cabinet to approve a drastically modified design for the airport terminal, one that was already badly inflated with its costs.
Asked whether the situation with the CJIA project borders on being criminal, Hughes noted that it is always easy to look from the outside.
She pointed to the 23 years that the Opposition spent in government, prior to 2015, where there was a heightened sense of insecurity.
“We had 23 years practically of all kinds of scam…we had a gold scam…we had a Charity wharf that was built… it collapsed. Don’t let me start about my ICT cable that could be helping us today. So we have a history of corruption and we have to admit that this happened in the 23 years.
Hughes insisted that her administration has been working to reduce corruption.
“…But this Government has made a commitment to do everything we can to stamp it out and I think if you look back on the GRA (Guyana Revenue Authority) and the number of persons who have been sent home… do your own research, do your comparison, look and see if the high incidence of persons being sent home…”
Over the last three years, GRA, under new management, confirmed that more than 100 staffers lost their jobs because of corruption and other issues.
“So in this specific (airport) project I would not want to say it is necessarily corruption. There are indications that there were things not included…We now have to go back and include them. It is more than six or seven years since the contract would have been signed. Costs go up. Those are the kind of analysis but I understand the inherent concerns that we have.”
The minister stressed that Guyana has had a “terrible history of corruption” but this administration is committed to working and changing it.
“The other thing I want to mention before I forget, is that corruption is a culture in Guyana today.
And it is not just at the government level, it is down…all across our society, down to the individual that gets stopped by the police, and has a choice to pay $7,500 for the ticket but would give the police officer $5,000.”
She urged that every person…the Customs Officers, the man on the wharf, who collects money and allows the container to go through without the VAT and even health workers who siphon off and sell drugs destined for hospitals and health centres are involved in the corruption.
“Those are the stories that we need to tell because in Guyana we have a culture. And we have to start ensuring at all levels that we are eradicating it.”
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