Rewiring the airport contract for collaboration

By Sase Singh; MSc – Finance, ACCA

Let us be frank here, both the People’s Progressive Party/Civic and the People’s National Congress Reform/Alliance For Change/A Partnership for National Unity underserved the nation on this Cheddi Jagan International Airport (CJIA) Expansion Project while in power. But pointing fingers at this stage will only be counterproductive, since it will not serve the national need. There is a time to cast blame, but now is not that time since Guyana’s hand is in the contractor’s mouth, and in such a situation, we have to act as one people if we are ever to come out of this one intact. Failure to collaborate and unite will leave us badly exposed financially; so much so, that I will not be surprised if we have to hand over the Airport to the Chinese to manage using their personnel and their technicians. So it is time we all pause and refocus our collective mind on the prize.
What is the prize? What is it that all patriotic Guyanese want? We want a complete and well functional international airport with a 10,800-foot runway that can easily accommodate a Jumbo Jet? We want the CJIA well placed to be an aviation hub. Why can’t there be a South African Airlines flight from New York to Georgetown to Johannesburg? Why can’t that be a vision? But on top of this international recognition of our airport, the reality points to the fact that this airport expansion project will permanently help expand the economy. Any project that permanently creates new assets and new wealth for the people demands that we all embrace it.
The World Bank estimated that a 10 per cent rise in infrastructure assets of this sort directly increase Gross Domestic Product between one to two percentage points. Thus, if this project fails, all Guyanese will be seen as failures and that will redound to economic suffering for all. So while we must admit the project started with much haste and with inadequate conceptual designs, the national intent must be celebrated. What is key and critical now is that the project-management model must work and that requires President David Granger creating more room for more people at the table when it comes to the management of this contractor. This project must be one where all Guyanese eyes are watching this contractor on behalf of the nation.
That is why I want to celebrate the youths who have used their iPhones to upload some pictures on social media of the sand washing away from the runaway when the rain fell, all because the Chinese did a “six-fuh-nine” embankment. It is unfortunate that these youths did not have a more formal conduit to channel their information with the Steering Committee supervising this project.
I am calling on the Public Infrastructure Ministry to adopt a life-cycle approach, which gives the owners (the people) more information of what should be expected by when so that we all can use this information to measure the contractor’s performance against a benchmark and then use the opportunity to share information when they are falling behind. Thus, there should be a channel where all videos and messages from the public can be uploaded to a Ministry portal so that the Ministry’s engineers can check it out as a means to documenting and logging what is happening in order to investigate and track progress. If we have 100,000 pairs of eyes (trained and untrained) watching this project and sharing information rather than a dozen trained eyes, the outcome will only strengthen the Government’s hands. By creating an opportunity for the owners of the Airport – the people – to be more involved in whistleblowing on the contractor, the Chinese will know that we are united on this national project and we will pay more attention to details.
Guyana’s development has always been constrained by a few things – expensive and unreliable electricity, an inefficient transportation link to northern Brazil, the lack of a deep-water port and not having an international airport that can serve as an air transportation hub. So irrespective of how weak the implementation remains on this airport project, it is the time we stop this situation of charges and counter-charges about who was right and recalibrate our minds to taking this project to the end and securing the best outcome for the people.
In summary, at this stage of the game, let us work together to monitor any mismanagement by the contractor and I encourage more journalists, youths and those living in the nearby area to continue to take videos of this project and upload it on social media, write letters to the press and cause publications on your discoveries. Let us keep this process alive of exposing project skullduggery so that we can help the people of Guyana mitigate their risks and enhance their ability to get what they are paying for. No more, no less, let us get our people a US$150 million expanded airport terminal and runway where those big jumbo jets can finally land.