Benn hopeful that opposition will approve sums budgeted for airport expansion

Minister of Works Robeson Benn is hopeful that the opposition will approve sums budgeted for the Cheddi Jagan International Airport so it can be completed but the opposition is insisting that all documentation and studies in relation to it be released first.

“Parliament approved US$20 million for this project so the work has started and it will continue. I anticipate that we will be able to sit together in the Parliament with our colleagues and find a resolution to what I would call a temporary impasse,” he said, speaking to Stabroek News on Thursday night.

“There are some issues, some misunderstandings which need to be clarified. But as I said this is a signal transformative project underway in Guyana,” he said. “We will be subject to great liabilities having signed a contract and then baling out, not to mention the loss of money that has already  been invested,” he said.

He said that the stoppage of the project means lost opportunity for Guyana to benefit from increased passenger loads and traffic into the country, made possible by the expansion project.

He said that without the upgrades the airport will not gain the certification necessary to allow it to receive larger aircraft and be compliant with international requirements for safety, security and efficiency of travel. He said this include Category one certification for the Federal Aviation Administration of the United States.

He said too that the upgrades will lead to sustainable and competitive airfares.

“There are some discussions underway to clarify the issues but certainly the discussions will have to be reengaged so that this project which is in the interest of all Guyanese can move ahead,” he said.

Asked what has happened on the ground so far, Benn said the contractor is on site and has started work with respect of final engineering design, data gathering, and the setting up of work yards for their accommodation.

However, A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) Member of Parliament Joe Harmon said that unless government releases all of the documentation and studies showing why such an airport project was necessary, the position will remain the same – APNU will withhold support.

“The project can still be redeemed if the government is prepared to bring the full documentation on the table. We are asking too that they respect the rights of persons living in areas contiguous to the airport and treat them according to international best practices,” said Harmon.

He said that some months ago, the opposition sat down with contractor China Harbour and posed a number of questions but to date these have not been addressed. He said that the company officials told the members of parliament that the questions should be directed to the government.

“We need to see all of the analyses as to why we need this project in its current configuration,” he said. “We need to review all of those projects that were hurriedly conceived in 2011,” he said; “our position is that these are ill-conceived projects which were not given scrutiny.”

This year the opposition cut over $5 billion from the air transport sector, inclusive of this year’s allocation for the completion of the airport upgrade project. The total project sum is US$138 million.

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