Airport expansion continues without approval – Benn fends off questions on accountability

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By Kurt Campbell

CEO of CJIA, Ramesh Ghir. [iNews' Photo]
CEO of CJIA, Ramesh Ghir. [iNews’ Photo]
[www.inewsguyana.com] –   Chief Executive Officer of the Cheddi Jagan International Airport (CJIA), Ramesh Ghir has revealed that a total of $366.9 million was spent on the airport expansion project, despite the combined parliamentary opposition disapproving funds during the consideration of the 2013 – 2014 budget estimates.

However, when quizzed by the media on Friday, January 16 on the source of the money and whether it was from the same funds that were disapproved, Public Works Minister Robeson Benn became seemingly enraged and refused to answer the question bluntly.

The Minister did say, when pursued, that the monies were provided by the Ministry of Finance as excess expenditure.

Despite not receiving any funding from China as promised, Benn said “the money from the People’s Republic of China is here in any event… these are funds that are given to us and we have to use… these are foreign inflows. Money comes to Guyana and it has to be used or if you don’t use it, you lose it and it goes back and you don’t get the benefit.”

Minister of Public Works, Robeson Benn
Minister of Public Works, Robeson Benn

Benn reminded that the National Assembly approved financing in 2012 for the initiation of the project which commenced in January 2013 “and based on the approval of Parliament we access and paid out am amount of US$20.7 million as the 15% mobilization advance.”

While continuously dodging the question of the source of the funding, he said the country faces tremendous risk if the project is not continued.

“I don’t want to get into other issues about whether it is excess expenditure. The monies have to be spent; this is larger than any ego trips in the Parliament or in the Courts… it absolutely has to be spent for the national good,” Benn added.

Construction continues to expand the runway at the CJIA.
Construction continues to expand the runway at the CJIA.

The Opposition, although approving funds in the 2012 budget, disapproved allocations in 2013 and 2014 for the project. The government has however been finding ways to utilize those funds on the same disapproved programs.

Last December, Shadow Public Works Minister Joseph Harmon questioned the source of the monies too and reminded that prior to the 2011 general elections, the current government had signed a contract for the extension of the airport which the Chinese had promised to provide a loan for through the China Exim Bank.

The Opposition is currently in the High Court seeking a Conservatory Order to stop all government spending which continues despite budget disapprovals and a non – functioning Parliament.

According the Airport CEO, design for the new terminal building which is part of the modernization project is being finalized and is expected to commence construction by May, 2015.

Meanwhile, works are ongoing on extending the current runway to 10,800 feet. The project, which is behind time, is slated to be completed by September, 2015.

In excess of US$30M has already been spent on the US$150 million project. Ghir said some 230 Guyanese are currently employed on the project which is being done by Chinese construction firm – China Railway Group and some 500 will gain employment as the project advances.

 

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