From the very beginning of the PPP/C’s time in office a new airport was identified as important if we were to make use of our great tourism potential. Moreover, looking at Guyana’s location on the map it could be seen that this country has the possibility of becoming a major international hub in the aviation sector.
This was brought forcefully to the PPP/C administration’s attention very early. In 1993 the South African Airways was considering using our airport as a transit point, however, that could not be done then because our airport was too small and our runway too short. Another consideration was to enhance the safety of the operation. Much later, we saw the justification for this as Caribbean Airlines had crash-landed here.
When the resources became available the PPP/C government moved to build the new airport. The government of the People’s Republic of China provided the finance and the administration went into a contract with China Harbour to build the new airport.
It was a design and build, fixed-price turnkey contract. It was to be a completely new building with eight air bridges, longer runway and an expanded parking lot among other quality features.
It was to be a world class facility, the best in the Caribbean. The expectation was that tourism would boom. We had already built the Marriott Hotel and with tax concessions many new private hotels were developed. Moreover, we had facilities like the National Stadium, the Olympic standard swimming pool, the International Track and the International Convention Centre. All those to develop various aspects of tourism.
When in opposition, the APNU and the AFC did everything to sabotage these projects. The airport was targeted heavily. In one year, the then opposition approved the budget for the airport project and the next it voted against the allocation for the continuation of the project.
The PPP/C had to go to the court to reverse that potential crippling blow to our taxpayers.
The company at one stage, in 2014, had approached me as President to adjust the cost upwards. I refused to do so and told them if they did not complete the airport in time I would have the penalty clause activated. The company did its own public relations work and engaged the APNU. In fact one Guyanese in a senior position was known to be close to the APNU hierarchy.
The company arranged trips to Jamaica for senior APNU people. Those trips seemed to have an impact on the APNU’s attitude. Not only did the criticism die down substantially, but interestingly one of the first things the APNU+AFC regime did in relation to the airport contract was to break it. They did so under the pretext that they were reviewing the contract.
A very early statement of the regime in relation to the airport project was that they needed another sixty million USD to complete the airport. That caused a big hullabaloo firstly from the PPP, but others as well.
The action of the APNU+AFC regime freed the company, China Harbour, from its contractual obligations to the Guyanese people. The APNU+AFC negotiations served to give Guyana an inferior product at a considerably higher cost.
Instead of a brand-new airport building we have a refurbished structure; instead of eight air bridges we had two and now we hear, at government’s expense, another two would be procured, instead of a two-storied modern building we have gotten the refurbishment of the old building.
If it was not so serious it would really have been laughable to hear that more than seven billion dollars in sand was bought. The troubling aspects of the APNU+AFC handling of the airport are as follows:
1. Why did they break a fixed contract? The regime has many lawyers, it also has access to many others. They knew that you should not change a fixed-price, design and build contract. Now the contractors are free of the obligations they were originally contracted to perform.
2. The cost has escalated by some seventy million US Dollars and it is still climbing yet we will not be getting a new airport.
3. Why pay 35 million USD to transport sand to a sand hill.
The airport is now serving to penalise Guyanese and other travellers. It was announced by Caribbean Airlines and then confirmed by the regime that travellers will be pressed to pay some 32 USD round trip to offset the cost of this airport. This is defeating the original intention for a new airport.
This is defeating the original intention for the building of a new airport. Recall that it was to promote tourism to be a major contributor to our economy. It was to facilitate the ease of doing international business and to enhance safety.
These new changes will impact negatively on the tourism and hospitality sectors.
This APNU+AFC regime’s corruption and incompetence have handed our country an inferior project and considerable high cost.
A public inquiry is definitely needed!