Harmon calls for full disclosure on airport expansion project

-blames bad planning for delays

Shadow Works Minister Joseph Harmon yesterday demanded that government make a full disclosure to the people about the state of the Cheddi Jagan International Airport, Timehri expansion project, while blaming bad planning for delays.

Harmon was at the time speaking at a press conference in Timehri North, where residents have been told that they have to relocate to facilitate the ongoing works.

Harmon, who was accompanied by fellow APNU MPs Annette Ferguson and Christopher Jones, told reporters that the project should have been completed in 32 months. “So by today we should have been looking at a brand new facility but like the PPP and their projects nothing goes straight,” he said.

Joseph Harmon
Joseph Harmon

Earlier this year, President Donald Ramotar had told the Government Information Agency (GINA) that the project is set to meet its August 2015 deadline.

The project is to be funded through a US$138M loan from China, which Harmon referred to as a “pocketful of money” at what appeared to be attractive interest rates. “This is where the love affair comes to an end,” he, however, said while noting that before Guyana could access the loan, the Guyanese taxpayers had to fork out advance payments of US$20M through the Chinese contractor, China Harbour Engineering Corporation (CHEC).

Harmon noted that the sum includes $270M for CHEC to supervise the works, $122M for site occupation, $70M for temporary roads, $60M for traffic control during the construction, $238M for insurance, $150M for the performance bond and $100M to cover the cost of advanced payments guaranteed. “Guyana is paying $20M for a bill drawing… $41M for signs and markings, $1.5 B for lay out structures and systems…. all of this is not nothing yet to start building the airport. All of this money is coming out of taxpayers’ pockets… so obviously someone got to be making a lot of money on this contract,” he stressed.

According to Harmon, it is estimated that the true cost of this project would probably be in the vicinity of US$250M, which was a figure previously given by chartered accountant Christopher Ram.

However, he said APNU has been advised that because of the poor preliminary work done on the project the cost of the expansion is likely to increase by an additional US$20M. He stressed that this increase is due to “slackness on the part of this administration, be-cause of poor contract negotiation and because of poor planning, we are going to have to be burdened with an additional US$20M for this project.”

He said the entire government must explain to the Guyanese people where this additional money is going to come from and whether the Chinese Exim Bank has started to release any of the US$138M loaned for the project. “As I understand it right now it is only taxpayers’ money that is being spent on this project…,” he said.

 Disapproving

Harmon was later asked if by disapproving allocations for the project in the National Assembly the opposition contributed to the delay in the funds from the Chinese and whether he and APNU are prepared to accept responsibility for any additional sums that might be incurred as a result of the delays.

He, however, said the additional $20M has nothing to do with delays but rather bad contract planning. “Bad planning at the initial stage. This has to do with soil testing and the fact that you now have to dig deeper to get to hard rock and then to fill that space with more sand,” he said. “It is piss poor management of the affairs of this state…,” he added while noting that he was informed that the Chinese contractors are now digging sand from another section of the area when the contract requires the Government of Guyana to deliver sand to the project. “That is the part of the Guyana government responsibility,” he further pointed out, while saying it is not for the Chinese contractors to go digging up sand but rather to get sand from established pits.

According to Harmon, there are many questions surrounding the project which the president and other members of his government must answer and they need to come forth and give a detailed statement on the state of the project.

He called on the Minister to share with the nation where he is getting money to carry out the preparatory works for the expansion. “Where is he squeezing the money from?

Where is he finding it?” he questioned, while adding that the issues surrounding this project is one of the reasons that prompted APNU to file a court action to stop the government’s unauthorised spending.

Harmon also said the government also needs to publicly state whether the residents of Timehri North will still have to be removed from their homes to facilitate the expansion. “Tell them because rather than seeking to bulldoze their homes and remove hundreds of residents who have been living here long before the airport got the lease for that land. Tell them why do you have to remove them and tell them if you are removing them whether you are conforming to the United Nations international standards for the relocation of residents….,” he demanded.

He noted that Timehri North is a well-established community outfitted with all the needed amenities. He stated that by proroguing Parliament, the president has silenced the people’s representatives in the National Assembly. “So we have to come to the Parliament of the people, to explain to you what is taking place. No promise of an election can erase the fact that Guyana is now being ruled by a dictator,” he added.

Harmon added that once APNU wins the next elections, it would subject such contracts to renegotiations and reviews.

Asked whether he believed the airport expansion was necessary, Harmon said he wanted to make it clear that APNU does see a need for such a project but value for money remains crucial.

He alluded to Ram’s blogs on the project where he highlighted that in the haste to conclude the contract Guyana was being subjected to price gouging, such as the extraordinary cost for a toilet set and electric bulbs and several other things which were hidden in the contract.

Harmon charged that in hustling to grab this “basket of money,” the rights of the Guyanese people were forgotten. “Let me make in clear we are in favour of a better airport, a longer runway ….but what we are saying is that we must have value for our money and that the concerns of the residents of Timehri North and residents who live around here must be given priority,” he stressed.