Questions on airport terminal project

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Monday, December 23, 2013


YOU have to give it to Tommy Osmeña. His absence from the limelight after his loss in the May local elections has not dimmed his wit – and sharp tongue. Yesterday, he was quoted by Sun.Star Cebu as saying that the new Mactan airport terminal design submitted by the winning bidder looked “like a poultry.”

“I think they should transfer that to Bantayan because it is where the poultry products are abundant,” the former Cebu City mayor and south district congressman quipped.

I will leave it to the experts to comment on the design but Tommy’s remarks did kindle my interest on the Mactan international airport project that could, even if it was conceived by the previous administration, well be President Noynoy Aquino’s legacy to the Cebuanos.

After a long delay, the Department of Transportation and Communication (DOTC) finally conducted the bidding on the project two weeks ago in Manila. A consortium between Megawide Construction and GMR Infrastructure submitted the highest bid of P14.40 billion to build and operate the country’s second largest and most important airport.

Megawide is a reputable Filipino company with a track record in huge construction projects. But GMR Infrastructure is relatively unknown here perhaps because this is the first time that it will do business in the Philippines, assuming that the DOTC awards the Mactan project to them.

Fortunately, there is Google to seek help from. I have found plenty of articles on GMR in the internet, the latest of which was a news item in the Economic Times that described GMR as an “infrastructure major” and reported that the India-based company was hopeful “of bagging the bid to modernize an important airport in the Philippines.”

If the consortium with Megawide Construction qualifies for this bid, “it would be its third venture in the global market after Istanbul and Maldives,” the paper further reported.

The next paragraph in the report was, however, intriguing. The Maldives project, it said, ran into trouble with changing regimes in the country and GMR had to surrender it. Following this, it went into arbitration in Singapore seeking compensation of $1.4 billion for the “wrongful termination” of a 25-year contract to develop and operate the Male airport.

“Had to surrender it” is a play of words. What happened was that the Maldives government wrote GMR, giving the latter seven days to vacate the Male airport. The Indian company sought and was granted an injunction by a Singapore court to stop the takeover but the order was set aside by that country’s Court of Appeals.

It seems that the Maldives takeover isn’t the only controversy in which GMR was involved. The company’s performance of a project for the New Delhi Airport was the subject of adverse findings from India’s Comptroller and Auditor General.

I would like to believe that these things were disclosed by the consortium to the PBAC. To us, Cebuanos, such candor is a minimum expectation considering the importance of the new airport to our lives.

Also, I heard, although I have no way of confirming it, that bid participants were required to submit documents showing, among others, that they have not been expelled, terminated or suspended from any project or contract.

If these facts were not known or disclosed, the PBAC is duty bound to investigate the reports and find out what really happened. It’s not every day that we get to see a multi-billion-peso project being undertaken in Cebu. Thus, we have to double-check the credentials of would-be contractor/s to make sure that the project is, to borrow a phrase from a bank commercial, in good hands.

(frank.otherside@yahool.com)

Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on December 24, 2013.

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