After nearly a year  of heated hearings, the refurbishment of the Mactan, Cebu International Airport has been awarded to consortium bidder Megawide Construction Corp. and GMR Infrastructure of India.  Now Cebuanos, and all of us visiting the “crown jewel” (my term) of the Visayas, can expect world-class, spanking clean, modern facilities upon landing in Mactan.

The existing rundown airport was meant to handle 4.5 million passengers per year, but government data  showed that close to seven million travelers arrived in Mactan in 2013. Clearly, there’s a need for a bigger, more efficient facility. The Filipino-Indian consortium announced that the airport, to be operational in 2018, will be a world-class facility that would serve as a regional hub.

The consortium topped six other bidders last Dec. 12, but it was only early this month that the contract was signed between  the proponent Megawide Construction partnering with GMR Infrastructure of India — and  the Department of Transportation and Communications. The winning bidder offered P14.4 billion.

Observers will note the raging controversy over who gets the building award. The next-highest bidder, Filinvest-Changi, raised questions about the winning bidder’s qualifications, including allegations of conflict of interest and doubts on the partnership’s ability to meet its financial commitments. Filinvest-Changi is believed to have the support of the Osmeñas of Cebu, led by Sen. Serge Osmeña.

Osmeña had raised questions about GMR’s capability to undertake the big-ticket infrastructure project, and even asked the Supreme Court to stop the award. But GMR-Megawide cleared such doubts, saying that it has considerable financial clout. GMR enjoys a Triple-A investment grade credit rating from international ratings agencies. In fact, reputable international banks have expressed interest in lending money to the consortium for the project. GMR is a viable business enterprise, as it has been meeting all its financial obligations. This, with its audited financial statements backup, saying the company actually earned operational profits in each of the last six years. Its net worth alone is four times the stipulated requirement for the Mactan Cebu International Airport.

The consortium has already completed the post-award requirements, including the payment of a P14.4 billion cash premium. It will spend an additional P17.5 billion for the passenger terminal, which would help the congested airport handle about 5 million passengers annually by the end of the 25-year concession projects.

GMR  is now one of the world’s leading airport companies, the third largest private company in the world in terms of passenger volume handled at airports. It developed and now manages the Delhi and Hyderabad airports in India.

GMR’s Andrew Acquaah-Harrison said that GMR counts some 17,000 employees in three countries where they have airport projects. He cited the Indira Gandhi International Airport in New Delhi, which was   ranked No. 101 in a global ranking of airports in 2006, but last year, was ranked 4th or in the same league as Singapore’s Changi  airport, and South Korea’s Incheon airport. The Hyderabad airport is ranked No. 2 among the best small airports, according to industry ratings in 2012.

But that’s not all. GMR has earned praise for being environment-friendly. It was awarded a Gold Leadership in Energy and Environment Design (LEED) rating by the US Green Building Council for the new third terminal at the New Delhi airport. It also received a silver LEED for the Hyderabad airport

Megawide, said its executive Louie Ferrer, is a “relatively” new construction outfit compared to “more venerable competitors,” but it has proven experience and track record in both the private and public spheres, and is best known as the general contractor for a number of condominium projects undertaken by the SM Development Corp. Recently, it won a contract to construct 10,000 classrooms for the Department of Education – “a contract it won without too much controversy,” Ferrer added.

It’s taken long for the consortium to win the project bid, but this is natural in bids for government projects, said Ferrer. As things go, most everything in these islands operate beneath the heavy cloud of political intrigue. But Ferrer testifies that his company’s dealings with the DOTC have been open and aboveboard, except for the unhappy objections raised by Filinvest-Changi supporters.

As a matter of fact, the senator from Cebu had said in the course of hearings on the project, described the proposed design as a “glorified chicken coop.” But a noted columnist said that she was struck by “how light-filled the interiors would be, and how airy and modern the ‘feel.’ Certainly a far cry from the box-like utilitarian structure that currently serve as the country’s second major gateway.”

As it had finally awarded the PPP (Public-Private Partnership) project to Megawide-GMR, the consortium said the “fair and timely award” of the project “will encourage other investors to take part in sustaining the economic gains made over the past several years, with not just Cebuanos but the entire nation as well” benefiting from the project. As for Osmeña’s  description of the airport facility design being a “glorified chicken coop” Ferrer said the concept reflects “a modern expression of . . . traditional Filipino architecture (that) imbibes the cultural ethos of Cebu  without sacrificing efficiency.”

At the dinner with media women, Ferrer said the company cooperated with Cebu-based and international architects and designers to make the Mactan, Cebu airport the best example of a modern, efficient facility.

The 25-year concession agreement will allow the consortium to earn from the commercial development and terminal fees, which will still be regulated by the government.

Apart from the airport facility, the consortium will develop an adjacent six-hectare property into a retail complex and hotel —  another source of income that makes non-winning bidders shake their heads in frustration.

The winning airport project bidder understandably  is a pain in the neck for frustrated developers,  but not to travelers who look forward to the welcoming arms of an airport that’s spanking clean, its toilets working, with hidden cameras — and  that promises to  be many times better than the NAIA 3 that’s taken years to complete,  and is still being completed.

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29 April 2014

By Domini M. Torrevillas