Pressure mounts for audit into CJIA expansion expenses

…independent audit needed in interest of accountability – lawyer

Pressure continues to mount on the Government to facilitate an independent audit into the Cheddi Jagan International Airport (CJIA) expansion project, the costs for which continues to attract criticism.

Anti-corruption advocate and attorney-at-law, Christopher Ram

In an interview with this publication on Saturday, attorney-at-law and anti-corruption advocate, Christopher Ram stressed that such an audit is, in fact, to be expected and speaks to the broader issue of a Government that is accountable.
“It’s obviously something that is necessary. There need not be a call for it. It should be done as a matter of course. It’s part of the broader issue of transparency and accountability. Only an independent audit will be able to attest to the accuracy and authenticity of any expenditure,” Ram said.
According to the attorney, there are several elements to consider when conducting an audit. Ram urged that any audit into the CJIA expansion project should include elements of both value for money and financial audit.
“The way an audit is conducted, an audit looks at the materiality of figures and the fact that those figures are to be pursued. The first thing one does is look at the contract and see whether the contract is being observed.”
“If there’s any variation, what was the authority for the variation? And was it made in accordance with the Procurement Act? You also need to ensure that those persons who might have compromised at the variation had the relevant expertise to do so.”
As of April 1, arriving and departing passengers at the CJIA will have to pay an additional US$35; all to support the ongoing CJIA expansion project.
According to Caribbean Airlines, one of the major airline carriers at the airport, both the airport security fee and the airport passenger service charge will be increased.

Following the announcement of the increased fees at the CJIA, Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo had been critical of what he called a unilateral measure and the downgraded specifications of the airport expansion project.
This was ventilated during his weekly press conference on Wednesday, where the former President criticised the fact that these new charges were sprung on passengers without any consultation.
“These charges were sprung upon us, without any consultation with the airlines or anyone else. And what are we paying back for?” Jagdeo had asked, eventually calling for a probe into the project. The justification for the increases had been the airport’s ongoing expansion project.

According to Jagdeo, however, Guyana is being ripped off because the Government has downgraded the specifications of the project.
For example, he noted that Guyana was originally supposed to get eight air bridges. However, it was reduced to four air bridges and with the decrease, a substantial size of the airport expansion was lost. He noted that the airport would have gotten a new terminal building, with enough room to accommodate eight aircraft.
“I travel out of the airport and I get extremely angry every time. Because I know what the contract was and what kind of airport we were supposed to receive and I look what we’re getting now. And I get extremely angry because we’re being ripped off, because of complicity with this Ministry.”
“In the original design, we had to have eight [air bridges]. So they had to build the terminal building to accommodate eight, plus the parking apron. By reducing, not only are you reducing the number of air bridges, you are reducing a substantial size of the airport, plus the apron on which those aircraft have to stand. So we should have had an entirely new terminal building. Now the terminal building is a rehabilitation work.”
For some time, the Public Infrastructure Ministry has faced questions over the CJIA expansion project’s costs and delayed construction. The project was initially supposed to have been completed within 32 months.
The project got underway in 2012 under the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) Administration when Guyana secured a US$138 million loan from the China Exim (Export-Import) Bank to fund the expansion and modernisation project, for which the Guyana Government was to contribute some US$12 million.
The A Partnership for National Unity and Alliance For Change (APNU/AFC), when in Opposition, had cut the funding the then PPP/C Government had allocated for the expansion project.
When the coalition Government came into power in 2015, the project was put on hold, but after discussions between Public Infrastructure Minister David Patterson and China Harbour Engineering Company (CHEC), it was later announced that the project would be continued but a number of downgrades were done to the design.