A controversial May 17, letter signed by Ogle Airport Inc (OAI) Chief Executive Officer Anthony Mekdeci and circulated to the media asserting that but for investments made by OAI Chairman Michael Correia what is now the Eugene R Correia International Airport would not have come on stream threatens to extend the controversy that has been raging at the country’s second international airport ever since the announcement some weeks ago regarding its renaming.
“There would be no international airport today at Ogle, if Mr Correia did not honour his investment obligation and put in his money,” Mekdeci said his letter.
More significant perhaps, was the assertion in Mekdeci’s letter that the now renamed Eugene F Correia International Airport is “100% built, owned and operated by a private sector company, Ogle Airport Inc,” a remark that appeared at variance with the pronouncement made by Public Infrastructure Works Minister David Patterson at the airport renaming ceremony that OAI was “a private company managing a government asset.”
Some of the other players in the aviation sector including President of the National Air Transport Association (NATA) Annette Arjoon-Martins and NATA Vice President Gerry Gouveia have been strenuously insisting that Correia, in his capacity as OAI Chairman, had in fact recruited other functionaries at the airport to his side in what had been a wresting of control of the facility. They said this allows the body holding the lease agreement for the management of what is now the Eugene F Correia International Airport to exert control over the facility. Mekdeci said in his letter that the airport “was formally privatized by the Government of Guyana on July 17, 2003 when Ogle Airport Inc entered into a 25-year, renewable up to 75 years, lease agreement with the Lands and Surveys Department for 441 acres, therefore passing title of the land to the company. This land lease issued to OAI by the Government of Guyana was previously and specifically conditioned by a lease agreement for the ‘Management Operation and Development of the Airport,’ entered into between the Government of Guyana and Ogle Airport Inc on November 5, 2001.”
When a response to this was sought by this newspaper, Patterson’s office said in an e-mail to this newspaper that the minister had indicated that “the comments made by Mr Mekdeci will be responded to after the review process of OAI operations is completed.” The e-mail quoted the minister as saying that he had “started a review process” and that process “shall be the basis of my further actions. One of the first actions will be the establishment of the Review Panel.”
Article Sixteen of the agreement between government and the OAI provides for a Review Panel, the purpose of which is to review the extent to which both sides, government and the OAI, are adhering to their obligations under the agreement.
At the renaming ceremony, Patterson had pointed to the sense of urgency associated with the convening of the Review Committee and in an invited comment Gouveia told Stabroek Business that Patterson’s decision “not to comment on the ownership issue raised by Mekdeci in his letter was “most interesting.” He said that while there was “a clear preoccupation with ownership and control in some quarters” he believed the minister was seeking to make it clear that Ogle is a national facility and
that there are expectations of those who manage the facility including the expectations of both the shareholders and the government.
In his address Patterson had declared that while, operationally, the airport had been functioning “smoothly,” that did not mean there is no room for improvement. According to Patterson, government’s planned review of the operations of the Ogle Airport Inc had been influenced by its position that “what might have worked a decade ago may not be what is best for today.”
Commenting on the assertion in Mekdeci’s letter that the airport was “100% owned” by OAI, Gouveia said he understood why the minister’s remarks at Ogle about the airport being a government asset and about the part of the mission of the planned review being to ensure that its management be dealt with in an equitable manner “might be discomfiting to the people who control the airport at this time.”