Even as he sought to assure taxpayers yesterday that they are getting value for money on the US$150 million Cheddi Jagan International Airport (CJIA) expansion project, Minister of Public Infrastructure David Patterson said an additional $346.5 million in supplementary funding is being sought for to see the project to completion.
On a tour of the facility, now expected to be fully opened and commissioned by the end of December this year, Patterson informed that his ministry has asked the National Assembly to approve $346.5 million in supplementary funding for the purchase of two additional air bridges for the airport.
“The contract has the two air bridges in it. I had always said we would make provision for an additional two. The supplementary is for the additional two,” Patterson said when asked by Stabroek News for clarity on the matter.
The request for additional monies formed the basis of the opposition People’s Progressive Party Civic (PPP/C) boycott of yesterday’s tour.
“This current tour is nothing but a smokescreen, a shameless attempt to (extract) $346.5 million… from the public purse to finance what was already paid and catered for, in the original `fixed price design and build contract,’” opposition Member of Parliament Juan Edghill said.
“From the figures provided by the minister on Financial Paper No. 2/2018, one can easily do the math and conclude that when this project was redesigned by the APNU+AFC administration, just on the alteration of moving from eight (8) air bridges to two (2) air bridges the contractor benefitted from US$5 million or an excess of $1 billion Guyana dollars in avoided cost,” he added.
While not citing Edghill’s position, Patterson pointed to the PPP/C’s boycott, saying that if the party felt that there was any deceit regarding information he has given on the project, yesterday’s tour would have given them an opportunity to make those concerns publicly known.
“You can come here and prove your worth. That was the objective of the tour,” Patterson said.
The CJIA Timehri facility is set to be transformed upon completion of the project. The runway will be extended from 7,500 feet to 10,800 feet, and there will also be a new Arrivals Terminal building, two boarding bridges, with the provision to install another two at a later stage, a renovated Departures Terminal, additional duty-free shops and increased parking facilities.
The APNU+AFC government while in opposition had been critical of the project and had voted against funding for it in light of their concerns about the high cost to taxpayers and the potential relocation of some 1,500 residents of the Timehri North area.
But when it took office in 2015, the project was re-examined and after week-long discussions with the contractor, the decision was made to move forward with extensions and renovations rather than demolition and rebuilding, resulting in better value for money.
The discussion with the contractor, China Harbour and Engineering Company Limited (CHEC), resulted in a US$46.8 million claim made by the company being reduced to roughly half of the amount. Some of the issues responsible for the claim included design changes and cost overruns.
Patterson had said then that a cap of US$23.7 million could not be exceeded, inclusive of all variations and designs for the proposed work.
Prior to the discussions with CHEC, Patterson had told Stabroek News that the ballooning cost for the project was not fiscally realistic and indicated that it should cost less than US$150 million.
“Cabinet has said that we will continue the runway and upgrade of the terminal but all must fall under US$150 million, that is the only way,” Patterson had said.
He echoed that stance yesterday, saying that the $346.5 million will be the only additional monies he asks for this year and which will be used to purchase the two additional air bridges.
“I am not going back to the Parliament this year,” he stressed to Stabroek News.
“In 2015, when the administration [changed], I assumed the helm of the ministry [and] we had paid out more money than the percentage of work done…. You paid our 75% of the money and you only see 30% physical progress on the ground. So, in Guyanese parlance, ‘Boat done gone a falls.’ So what we have to do is, ensure that the project can be engineered to ensure that we have value for money and completed. Because the first thing the Cabinet said to me is, ‘You can complete the project, but provided the project cost does not increase.’ Except for the two new bridges, we have [held] to that. I do think this project is something the Guyanese people would be proud of,” he said.
The Minister of Public Infrastructure also referred to external works, saying that after the airport is completed and handed over, his ministry will continue to upgrade it and continue to make external additions.
“This is a living, dynamic project. Obviously, you would have seen outside. We have plans for a commercial freight outside, we have a tender out for the roundabout. We are just waiting for the utilities to be relocated. Those are not in the China Harbour contract. So, progressively, we will make the outside, the external landside, more user and customer friendly. So, obviously we will need more funds. We can’t just have a world class terminal we must have world class ambience and feeling so there will be opportunity for Guyanese to have a kiosk and so that persons can sample some genuine cuisine. We have to put a cost to that, we have to put a time frame to that obviously,” he said.
“It is my hope at the end of the year, when this terminal building is completed, that I can progressively get those things. We might need more parking, more landscaping, all of that will come with time. We will have to do a fencing. You would have noticed we have increased the length of the runway both sides. Obviously, for security purposes, we will have to fence and put in security cameras, that is not in the contract…As it goes, progressively, I am not going back to the Chair for anything [this year], but I want to have concessions inside, bigger car parks, etcetera but that is a long term plan. But I don’t want you to write that I am going back to the parliament for more monies for those,” he added.
Overall, he believes that taxpayers would have gotten value for their money and they will be the judges when they use the facility for travel. “Value for Money? Yes. The purpose of this tour is that everyone can come and assess for themselves what is going on, because at the end of the day, even though it is a loan from the Exim Bank [of China], it’s the taxpayers who will have to repay,” he said.
Persons will be able to begin using parts of the new airport from as early as June of this year as the departure terminal will be the first section to be opened.
Patterson said that there will be other partial openings leading up to December, when the entire airport will be commissioned.
“The entire project will be [opened] at the end of this year but there will be partial openings…And that is what you will be seeing happening between June and the end of the year, we will be using sections as we move out,” he said.