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Whether you had the opportunity to go through the Cheddi Jagan International Airport, Timehri or just view photos of its expansion, there is one man who uniquely stands out for playing an integral part in its realisation. His name is Colvin Heath-London. Village Voice News had an extensive interview with this son of the soil which will be carried in parts.
The story of this young professional is bittersweet, in large part because of the vindictive politics that has characterised the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C), particularly under Mr. Bharrat Jagdeo in role (s) as party leader (2017-present), President of Guyana (1999-2011), and Vice President (2020-present).
For Guyanese, any change in government to the PPP/C is always a period of trepidation and reckoning, even professional public servants are dismissed, and many find themselves unable to find jobs in the aftermath; being riddled with accusations before, during and after the electoral process.
For Mr. Colvin Heath-London, he was soon to experience one of the worst experiences of his youthful career and it was not just the curse of oil and domestic political conflicts, it was also of vindictive leaders seeking to drive fear in the African Guyanese community and targeting African professionals and leaders to be made examples.
So far, the PPP/C government is living up to 2020 pre-election threats to target certain individuals and groups for recrimination, by exercising the brunt of its force to destroy African professionals, African resistance, African wealth, the African opposition, affiliates of the A Partnership of National Unity + Alliance for Change (APNU+AFC) coalition, and any whom they suspect will express an alternative view to theirs.
The slothfulness of the Judiciary in dispatching cases brought against these professionals by the post-August 2020 PPP/C government has resulted in persons experiencing financial constraints, lives in limbo, employment opportunities denied given the charges brought against them by the state and having to cope with the emotional trauma of being criminalised. Heath-London is one of the many Guyanese whose future in no small part awaits the court’s ruling for executing duties within his portfolio as Chairman of the National Industrial & Commercial Investments Limited (NICIL) and on the advice of the then APNU+AFC government led-Cabinet.
Those working close to Colvin Heath-London know of this young gentleman’s love for his country, and commitment to place newly oil rich Guyana on the frontier of development by pushing for the implementation of several projects, among which include the expansion of the Cheddi Jagan International Airport, modernising the entertainment industry, land and water infrastructural development.
The Cheddi Jagan International Airport Expansion project
In an interview with this publication, Heath-London, former Group Investment Manager of the China Harbour Engineering Company Ltd (CHEC) that has been contracted for the Airport Expansion Project, disclosed he was recruited by the company in 2011 from The Bahamas.
Whilst it was a new job and the world was in the throes of an economic meltdown, Heath-London said he could not resist the opportunity to execute projects that would open his country to trade and investments. At the back of his mind, was the desire to play a role in moving Guyana from the backwaters to a more developed country.
With qualifications and experience in engineering and project management, CHEC used his skills and expertise to foster its expansion of massive infrastructural development in the Americas, supporting economic agendas in the Caribbean and promoting positive relationships between governments and private sectors.
I couldn’t speak Chinese but was determined to succeed
Heath-London recalled, as a new recruit, how he marvelled at the Chinese expertise and technological advancement, which only made him determine to be as good as any of them. Within a matter of weeks his performance caught the eyes of upper-level management, and he was promoted to Senior Business Development Manager/Assistant General Manager (Marketing), with responsibility for the legal, financial, economic, political, business development, public relations, protocol, and client relations departments. In this capacity he directly reported to the president of the Americas and the board of directors in China, governing operations in the Americas.
Heath-London said he was tasked with developing sophisticated economic models to be marketed to governments of the region for each country’s success. The models proposed were all totally dependent on the region, neighbouring countries, and global trends.
And whilst he could not speak Chinese he was determined to succeed. CHEC sent him for orientation in China to become au fait with the Chinese work culture and traditions. He was also assigned an Executive Assistant who was fluent in the four major languages of the Americas.
With his overarching responsibility Heath-London said he noted even though Guyana was the least indebted country in the region it had the worst infrastructure and needed improvement and rapid investment to be able to compete globally for economic development. And out of these deliberations and programmes, he said, the expansion of the airport was birthed.
Duty and obligation to influence airport expansion
“I saw the airport development through the eyes of a Guyanese citizen and felt a duty and obligation to influence this project.” So said Heath-London. He, personally, took on the responsibility to convince the PPP/C government that a modern Chinese designed airport would be one of the catalysts for economic development.
The PPP/C, however, initially encountered problems with the loan being approved. Undeterred by the setback, Heath-London said he took a personal interest in helping to realise the loan by working with the Government of Guyana to convince China Exim Bank to change its decision. “I was shuttling back and forth to China for three months fighting for this airport. In the third month, after flying on four separate occasions to China, in that month we got the green light and the project started.”
The Governments of Guyana and China on October 31, 2012 signed a framework agreement for the provision of 825 million RMB or US$130 million for the expansion of the Cheddi Jagan International Airport.
Bringing other investments to Guyana
Through his connection with the Chinese business, he was able to capture other worthwhile investments and make proposals for these as part of Guyana’s development. With Guyana on the verge of great wealth from its oil production, the expected expanding middle-class and influx of foreign nationals, Heath-London envisaged such growth and population movement would demand high-quality standard entertainment facilities. He approached the Chinese investors to invest in the entertainment industry in Guyana in establishing MovieTownes.
Incidentally, around the same time, he said, Trinidad approached the Chinese for collaboration on building movie townes in St Vincent and Antigua. Heath-London and team became very involved in trying to influence the Chinese to place a MovieTowne in Guyana before MovieTowne in Trinidad proposed doing one here.
He said as faith would have it CHEC was approached by the owner of Trinidad’s MovieTown, a Guyanese born Chinese, to finance the construction of similar MovieTownes in St. Vincent and Antigua respectively. “CHEC business development team, which I was a part of, was able to convince him to construct a MovieTowne in Guyana.” This MoveTowne is at Turkeyen, East Coast Demerara.
Other projects designed by Heath-London and his team, which are scattered across Guyana are: the southern corridor (Sheriff Street to the airport) which the PPP/C completed and opened to Peter’s Hall. The concept for this road was developed during the People’s National Congress Forbes Burnham administration.
The Linden to Lethem Road and railway, and a deep-water harbour at the mouth of the Demerara River, were all projects designed by London and team, based on concepts that existed during the Burnham administration.
Heath-London said whilst CHEC was not the originators of these projects, the Chinese had designs done and were ready to implement, and this also included the new Demerara Harbour Bridge, cargo rail from the East Bank to Lethem/Brazil border. The Chinese, he said, were very interested in investing and constructing these projects to fruition.
To be continued….