Robeson Benn calls for full-fledged probe of CJIA expansion contract

Former Minister of Public Works Robeson Benn has called for a full-fledged probe of the altering of the contract for the expansion of the Cheddi Jagan International Airport. 

In a letter to the media, Benn was responding to Facebook posts by Minister of Public Infrastructure, David Patterson.

Benn’s letter follows:

Dear Editor,

I would like to respond to assertions attributed to Minister David Patterson, on the subject of the Cheddi Jagan International Airport Expansion Project, which seem to have found their way out of his Facebook Page into reporting in at least two national dailies.

Guyana entered in to Fixed-Price Contract with China Harbour Engineering Company (CHEC) for the expansion of the CJIA to address the clear and still present issues of congestion, aged airport terminal and safety, which beset the operations, at a time when there was a significant increase in passenger and aircraft traffic. Payment was made on the usual 30% mobilization advance to CHEC, which was bonded.

Initial delays in project start-up occurred as CHEC sought to extract an increase in the project sum by US$30M. Their effort was refused based on international contracting rules for Fixed-Price Contracts and the considered view that the sought increase was not warranted, anyway.

Project supervision fell, initially, under the Works Service Group (WSG) of the Ministry of Public Works until an international supervision consultant, MMM Group, in association of CEMCO, were awarded the supervision consultancy. This WSG resort was not unusual and natural and necessary in the circumstances to maintain project schedules. Awaiting project start-up until the process of obtaining a consultancy would have imposed additional time delays on the project.

I stand by the integrity of the supervision undertaken then by the Ministry’s engineers who did daily visits and had weekly project meetings in order to ensure timely initiation of the project.

The Contractor, CHEC, had, and took, the opportunity to examine the project site before entering into a Design and Build Fixed-Price Contract.

Sand had to be provided free of royalties, which are costs that would have been charged back to the project, anyway. Sand provided was designed to allow for placement of an engineered fill, at levels of compaction and stability to provide for a safe, stable runway extension.

On detailed geotechnical examination of the planned northern extension by CHEC resulted in their advice that the entire length of fill to the north would be excessive and a decision was made to share the 1,000 meters extension between the north and south of the runway – 50:50. This was taken as the optimized solution to the issue as extension of 1,000 meters to the south would have, indeed, required more fill based on elevation and deepen of the swamp sediments – pegasse and soft Demerara clay as the river was approached beyond 500 meters of extension. In fact, the soil conditions beyond 500 meters on direction of the extension ere unsuitable because of volume of excavation and fill required.
By 2015, performance schedules of many national contracts were in difficulty because of budgetary cuts imposed by the then APNU and AFC Parliamentary Opposition.

It is now evident that the scope of this project seems to have been tremendously modified with the effect of impairing the project’s original intended validity and integrity.

Some points to note are:
· A stands alone New Terminal Building is now an Arrival Hall addition to the old Terminal Building;

· The boarding bridges are now said to be four eventually, instead of the eight planned, along with now smaller and less durable aircraft parking aprons;

· The mezzanine floor with escalators to a Viewing Gallery had been cut out from the construction; and

· The building’s footprint and actual total square footage are now less than what was contracted for.

It is obvious that the Minister is making an attempt, utilizing his Facebook Page and friends, to assign blame elsewhere for failings on the project after being responsible for the project for almost four years.

The Minister also seems to present a conflicting scenario in his postings – that is, he is not making payments on payment certificates at the time of ‘salvaging’ the project. This begs the obvious question, where did the money go, if not into payments on a reduced project scope?

Several high-level and well published visits were made by the Ministers extolling the virtues of the project, even while commissioning timelines were being repeatedly shifted. We are, apparently, now being asked to prepare ourselves, via Facebook, to accept less for more in the result along with experiencing excessive and prolong delays related to this project.

In the circumstances, I support calls for a full-fledged public investigation into how a Fixed- Price Contract could be subject to changes in scope and intent.

Robeson Benn,
Former Minister of Public Works,
April 23, 2019.

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