CEO of the Cheddi Jagan International Airport, Timehri (CJIA) Ramesh Ghir says that works should have started last week on the airport runway upgrade as part of the larger expansion project but design snags have proven difficult to overcome.
Speaking to this newspaper on Monday, Ghir said that a number of excavators have been sitting in place ready to start the works. He confirmed that these works are being carried out by China Harbour Engineering Company (CHEC) and he also said that the work is still at a slow pace because of concerns by the contractor over whether their monies will be paid.
Meanwhile, Chairman of the CJIA Board of Directors Ramesh Dookhoo said that while there had been plans to commence the runway upgrade works last week,
the engineers on the ground are still working on the design phase not only for the upgraded runway but also for the terminal building and ancillary structures. He said that this is so because of the amount of the work that has to go into the project. This would involve massive back filling since the area at the end of the runway slopes down sharply.
Dookhoo said that apart from the initial sum of US$20 million advanced to the Chinese contractor, no further monies have been paid. Several weeks ago, Minister of Works Robeson Benn confirmed that government had missed a payment to the contractor and as such faced penalties and that the project was “at risk.”
“The first payment on works done was due two days ago. It hasn’t been made. [As a result] we have to pay interest at commercial rates for every day missed,” Benn told Stabroek News during an interview in July.
The payment was missed because of the opposition’s cutting of the entire budget for the air transport sector, which included the funds allocated for the upgrade of the CJIA.
According to Dookhoo, there has been no progress on talks regarding the future of the financing for the project and it is unclear how the project will be continued beyond the US$20 million. Dookhoo had previously warned that there could be possible compensation made payable to contractor CHEC for cancellation of the contract and possible compensation to China Exim Bank for cancellation of the loan agreement.
The opposition and others have voiced concerns over the scope of the project in terms of the size of the proposed terminal building. Opinions as to whether an eight-gate terminal is warranted in a country where the landings and take offs are few and far between have also been advanced. However, APNU’s spokesperson on the project Joseph Harmon said that while the upgrade to the runway is something that he understands the need for, it is the extravagance of the larger component of the works and the secrecy in which those decisions were arrived at that are major sticking points.
Speaking with this newspaper last month, Harmon noted that with a proper social, economic and feasibility assessment, the size of airport most suitable for the country would be determined. However, he said that the government made a decision and then tried to tailor the situation on the ground to it.
At a press conference soon after the cuts, the Chairman of the CJIA together with business persons who have business interests at the airport cited a number of reasons for wanting an upgraded facility, with being cramped for space and security concerns listed among the reasons.