Corruption today has reached heights never imagined in Guyana. The list of blatant corrupt transactions since May 2015 has disappointed, nauseated and shocked people today. One transaction that has people talking and that has come to be synonymous with rampant corruption is Guyana’s largest single infrastructure project – the US$150 million Cheddi Jagan International Airport. Instead of people being joyous and proud over a spanking new modern airport, they are angry and disgusted over the mismanagement and corruption that have scarred the CJIA project. The CJIA project has become one more of the dozens of A Partnership for National Unity/Alliance For Change (APNU/AFC) ugly corruption scars on Guyana’s otherwise beautiful landscape.
The revelation this week that the project included a cost of US$35 million (more than G$7 billion) for sand used in the project, including for the runway, has shocked even the most ardent supporters of APNU/AFC. Independent analysts have estimated the real cost for sand for such a project should not exceed US$5 million. This means the cost was inflated by more than seven times the real cost. As unbelievable as this cost for sand is, there are other worrisome information that now has become part of the knowledge-base for Guyanese. In 2014, the project suffered a dramatic setback when APNU and AFC blocked the project in Parliament because, among other objections, was that the US$150 million budget was too excessive for the project that was designed. That project included an extended runway to accommodate bigger planes and new terminals with eight arrival and departure air bridges.
Soon after APNU and AFC became the Government, they restarted the project they had stalled in 2014. Shockingly, the very people who claimed the project cost was too high then reduced the scope of work, but at the same US$150 million cost. Instead of eight air bridges, the reduced scope of work ended up with only two. Visitors will notice four bridges, because, after public consternation, APNU/AFC added two more bridges, but outside of the US$150 million budget, having appropriated another US$750,000 (G$150 million) from the Consolidated Fund. In addition, instead of new terminals, there are now rehabilitated terminals. Adding salt to the wound, the project is now almost two years over the deadline and, as of now, is unlikely to be completed before the second half of 2019. Reportedly also, there are presently almost 1400 defects identified. How can we argue that the cost was heavily inflated, then reduce the scope, but not the budget? Something stinks to high heaven.
Truly most reprehensibly, the practitioners of corruption today were less than four years ago self-righteous anti-corruption crusaders. The leaders of APNU/AFC were the most vocal anti-corruption advocates, vigorously crusading against the then People’s Progressive Party (PPP) Government before 2015. APNU/AFC’s anti-corruption platform and their persistent, aggressive anti-corruption messaging resonated with people. They rode this anti-corruption platform all the way to victory in the 2015 General and Regional Elections. There were people who honestly believed the PPP was doing a good, even a great, job of managing the country’s economic and social welfare progress, but voted for APNU/AFC because they bought into their anti-corruption posture. APNU/AFC’s anti-corruption messaging succeeded in creating the perception of PPP’s corruption. Interestingly, after spending more than $130 million in forensic audits, no evidence of PPP corruption has emerged.
But the self-righteous APNU/AFC anti-corruption crusaders of pre-2015 turned out to be more corrupt than politicians of any other era in Guyana’s history. Whether it is the Cheddi Jagan International Airport, the Demerara River Bridge Feasibility Studies, the several medicine procurement contracts, the medical warehouse contract and many dozens more, averaging more than one per week for the entire four years since May 2015, corrupt transactions under this Government have poisoned development in Guyana. In fact, with negative dramatic events worrying people in Guyana every day, corruption continues to be among the top conversation topics in the country and always among the headlines in the breaking news. Adding to people’s anxiety are the continuing question of enquiring minds – what has happened to the US$18 million Exxon bonus and the G$30 billion GuySuCo loan?
In 2015, many people aware of the history of the PNC, the parent body of APNU/AFC, of corruption, unaccountability and authoritarian DNA, were willing to take a chance, hoping they had changed. Now just four years into their term in government, APNU/AFC proves the tiger does not change its stripes. The DNA of the PNC for authoritarianism and corruption has exposed itself and has betrayed people. Unfortunately, poor people have become collateral damage, but APNU/AFC is blind, deaf and dumb to their plight.