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OAI rejects “unfounded claims of anti-competitiveness and oppression” being promoted by NATA

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Dear Editor,

 

The Eugene F. Correia International Airport, formerly Ogle International Airport (OAI), was originally owned by Guysuco and was formally privatized by the Government of Guyana on17th July 2003when Ogle Airport Inc., entered into a 25 -year, renewable up to 75years, Lease Agreement with the Lands and Surveys Department for 441 acres, therefore passing Title of the land to the Company.

 

This Land Lease issued to OAI by the Government of Guyana was previously and specifically conditioned by a Lease Agreement for the “Management Operation and Development of the Airport”, entered into between the Government of Guyana and Ogle Airport Inc. on 5th November 2001.

 

The Eugene F Correia International Airport is, therefore 100% built, owned and operated by a private sector company, Ogle Airport Inc., registered to do business under the Companies Act and which offers that service to the members of the public who use the airport.

 

The airport is, of course, licensed and regulated to operate as an international airport by the Civil Aviation Authority, enforced through an Airport Operations Manual.

 

Ogle Airport Inc. is also required to manage and operate the Airport in compliance with the requirements of the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), The International Air Transport Association (IATA) and other International and domestic bodies which have jurisdiction over an international airport functioning as a port of entry, including Customs, Immigration, Port Health and CANU.

 

The Minister of Public Infrastructure, Mr. David Patterson, met with the Executive Management of OAI on 19th November 2015, following a meeting he held on 18th November with members of the National Air Transport Association (NATA), to discuss issues raised by NATA about the operations of what was then Ogle International Airport.

The Minister advised OAI that his Ministry had decided to proceed with “an independent legal review of the Ogle Lease Agreement”.

 

Minister Patterson subsequently wrote the Chairman of Ogle Airport Inc., Mr. Michael Correia Jnr., on 29th December confirming that his Ministry had commenced the review to “aid in the clarification of the rights and obligations of the parties to the Agreement and form the basis of determining the way forward as regards to the proper implementation of the Agreement”.

 

 

The Chairman of Ogle Airport Inc., Mr. Michael Correia Jnr., on 2nd January 2016, acknowledged Minister Patterson’s notice of the review and made himself and the management of OAI available to assist in any way with the conduct of the review.

 

At the time of Minister Patterson meeting with OAI and NATA, he however asked both organisations to make no public comment on the matter.

 

It is thoroughly disgraceful, therefore, that both the President and Vice President of NATA, Annette Arjoon-Martins and Gerry Gouveia, have continuously and repeatedly dishonored and violated their undertaking in a calculated and deliberate attempt, through the media to mount a publicity campaign obviously designed to prejudice the review undertaken by the Ministry.

 

Further, Arjoon-Martins’s and Gouveia’s companies, Air Services Ltd and Roraima Airways Ltd, not satisfied with the promised Ministerial review, petitioned the Court to prevent the naming of the airport, by way of injunction,  as part of a substantive claim against the operations of Ogle Airport Inc.

 

The Court in discharging the injunction against the naming of the airport, made the following observations based on the Affidavits filed by the parties:

 

It was a fair inference to be drawn from the previous correspondence between the parties that the process to change the name of the Airport was done with the full knowledge of the parties from the inception after the President’s announcement in October 2015.

 

Based on that correspondence and the contents of the Affidavits, the Plaintiffs’ claims to have no prior knowledge is unbelievable and their description of the recent move to change signage as ‘shocking’ is not substantiated. 

 

The Plaintiffs have delayed in applying to the Court. The Plaintiffs knew that the name change was proceeding continuously and have been guilty of non-disclosure to the Court in their application.

 

The Plaintiffs’ claim that the name change will substantially affect ‘branding’ between competitors is not believable. The several companies which compete as Air carriage service providers do not carry the name ‘Correia’. Any association by the public of the name ‘Correia’ with aviation in Guyana is from another source. There is public knowledge associating the name with aviation for decades.

 

In any event, in the context of a claim of oppression of minority shareholders over a period of many years, there is no evidence from the Affidavits to justify the view that the issue of a name change of the Airport is otherwise than minimal.

 

 

The claim by the Plaintiffs that there has been a breach by OAI of the Lease with the GOG in the implementation of a name change is unfounded.

 

 

Ms. Arjoon Martins’s most recent letter published in the media on 13th May is particularly offensive, because it clearly sets out to comment on and prejudice the substantive matter which remains before the court.

 

Ms. Arjoon Martins letter follows on the heels of an interview she gave to the Stabroek News published just two days before, on 11th May. In the interview, she again, sets out to both misrepresent and prejudice the review promised by Minister Patterson by claiming that the Minister “had started the process of remedial action such as the review of the Master Lease between the Government and the Airport”.  The Minister has given no such indication. The Minister has not undertaken to remedy anything. He has undertaken, without bias, to review the Lease Agreement with Ogle Airport Inc.

 

Ms. Arjoon Martins, in that interview, interestingly, reveals that NATA has deliberately sought to influence the findings of the review by communicating directly with the Minister and the Lawyer engaged to conduct the review.  She is reported as stating that “we had identified all the areas of non-compliance and we had also sent copies to the Minister and to the Lawyer”.

 

On 8th May, Ms. Arjoon Martins wrote to Stabroek News, claiming, unsupported by any evidence, “non-conformity by OAI” with the reporting requirements of the Lease Agreement and making a host of unsubstantiated and grossly misleading claims against the management of Ogle Airport Inc.  She echoes these claims in her letter of Friday 13th May, once more, seeking to prejudice the Minister’s promised review and the substantive case before the court.

 

Ms. Arjoon Martins adds insult to injury in her letter of 13th May, by personally slandering the Chairman of Ogle Airport Inc., Mr. Michael Correia Jnr. by falsely accusing Mr. Correia of “manipulating” the shares in the Company to ensure that 5 of the 7 Directors of Ogle Airport Inc. were either family or affiliated to the companies held by Mr. Correia

 

What is the truth? The truth is that OAI was formed as a private company with 5 equal shareholders, including Air Services Ltd. and Roraima Airways Ltd. When the time came, in the life of the development of the airport to invest substantial funds to meet the obligations under the Lease Agreement with the Government, Air Services and Roraima Airways declined.  These two companies were unwilling to share in the investment obligation of the Agreement, preferring, instead, to invest their money in their own facilities on the airport.

 

The minutes of the OAI board at the time, will show that all of the shareholders unanimously approved the offer of Mike Correia to meet the call on funds necessary to complete the Second Phase of the airport’s development. It is that fact and that fact alone which has resulted in  60.10% of the shares being owned by companies held by Mr. Correia.  Of the 14 shareholders today, the Mazaharally Group, including ASL, owns 15.79% of the shares, and Roraima Airways just 2.22 % of the shares.

 

Far from manipulating the shareholding of Ogle Airport Inc., Michael Correia’s companies chose to meet the greater burden of the financial obligations imposed by the Lease Agreement, while the other companies reneged on those obligations.

 

The truth is, as Mr. Correia pointed out in his presentation at the naming of the airport on Monday last, there would be no international airport today at Ogle, if Mr. Correia did not honour his investment obligation and put in his money. Those operators who complain today, largely because they resent the increased regulatory requirements of operating on an International Airport, would be operating at much greater cost and making less profit if they were operating out of the Cheddi Jagan International Airport

 

Irrespective of the shareholdings in the Airport, the decisions of the Board of OAI,  as the minutes will show, have always been by consensus.  The Board, over the past 15 years, has always been elected at Annual General Meetings by one person exercising one vote, and not by the majority shareholder exercising its right to vote its shares.

 

It is ironic that Ms. Arjoon Martins, who hypocritically preaches so glibly about good governance, honesty, transparency and accountability, should so blatantly attempt to deceive the public on the matter of the European Union funding for the airport, especially as her brother, Mazahar Ally, is a Member of the Board and is fully aware of the facts.

 

In 2007, the EU, as part of a Caricom/Caribbean Airport Development Programme, granted Euro$1.5M, about US$2M for the extension of the Airport runway to 4000 x 100 ft. to achieve ICAO 2C status to accommodate Liat and CAL aircraft. OAI then spent an additional US$1.2M to further lengthen the runway and increase the terminal taxiways and international apron to satisfy LIAT’s operational requirements.

 

Instead, however of the EU/Caricom money benefitting OAI, the previous Government reasoned that they could not allow a privately owned Airport to benefit from Grant Aid and converted the Grant into an interest free loan to Ogle Airport Inc. But Ms. Arjoon Martins deceptively wants the public to believe that the Government is the owner of the Airport, and that OAI, who has just made a small profit of G$31M last year, for the first time in `15 years, has benefitted from generous terms

 

It is therefore perhaps worth noting that Air Services Ltd. which has contributed just 14.11 percent of the total investment which has built the airport, are the largest beneficiary, flying, last year, just under 55% of the total domestic flights, making a mockery of anti-competitiveness claims.

 

In yet another letter to the media over the weekend, Arjoon Martins, in yet another effort to prejudice the government review and pending case in the Court, accuses OAI of approving dishonest and predatory practices by a Land Use Committee chaired by Mr. Marcel Gaskin and established with Terms of Reference approved by two NATA members, Air Services Limited and Wings Aviation, on the OAI Board.

 

The Board of OAI has also approved the land lease rates.  The Land Use Committee and the Board of OAI, as the Minutes and correspondence from OAI will show, have bent over backwards to accommodate ASL’s and other land lessees’ concerns.

 

We have no wish to prejudice the outcome of the review being conducted by the Ministry of Public Infrastructure. We more than welcome it. Ogle Airport Inc., from the very beginning, with the previous government and now with the present, has urged the appointment of the Airport Review Panel the main purpose of which is to review the lease obligations of the GOG and OAI.  We do not wish to prejudice the ongoing case before the court brought against the Airport. We will, therefore, refrain from further comment on what we consider to be the utterly

 

 

Sincerely

OGLE AIRPORT INC.

 

Anthony Mekdeci, AA

CHIEF EXECUTIVE OFFICER

 

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