State-run company China Harbour Engineering Company (CHEC) performs poorly worldwide with infrastructure projects, including in Latin America. Its works and actions in Bolivia, Costa Rica, Honduras, Jamaica, and other countries received much criticism for the use of low-quality materials, contamination in protected areas, lack of site maintenance, delays, unfair expropriation, use of bribes, and many other complaints.
CHEC, a subsidiary of China Communications Construction Company (CCCC), which is involved in cases of corruption worldwide and was placed on the World Bank blacklist on 2009 for fraudulent bidding, has more than 60 overseas offices or subsidiaries serving clients in more than 80 countries and is a full-service provider of engineering, procurement, construction, operation, transfer, and public-private partnerships, Business News Americas reported. Its infrastructure portfolio includes marine engineering; dredging and reclamation; road, bridge, rail, and airport construction; and equipment assembly.
Many of CHEC’s projects are awarded in Africa, Asia, and Latin America, its main areas of operation. However, they are also linked to corruption scandals and complaints from its clients.
“One of the Chinese business giants that the Communist Party uses for everything is CHEC, part of that monster called China that moves with many arms, but is always the same animal,” Douglas Farah, international analyst and president of IBI Consultants, a U.S.-based national security consulting services company specializing in Latin America, told Diálogo on October 15. “It’s a company that receives many complaints, mainly because it lacks transparency and because normally its contracts are not open to the public. That translates into them committing to do things and then there is no way to hold them to it.”
Problems and accusations against CHEC have occurred in countries such as Bangladesh and Tanzania, as well as in Uganda and Sri Lanka. But have also arose in Latin America, seeming more like a modus operandi than errors or random events.
“One of the common aspects in these complaints is the poor quality of CHEC’s work. This is because if a country is not of a high strategic level for China, they won’t bother to do things in the best possible way to avoid a complaint,” Farah said. “In those cases China comes in, puts in a little money and they say, ‘that’s it, done,’ and leave.”
In Costa Rica, the project to expand National Primary Route 32, which links towns in Río Frío and Limón, has faced obstacles and drawbacks since the construction phase began in 2017. Extensions, transfers of completion dates, need for more resources, undue expropriations, and accusations to the company that there is no coordinating counterpart, have meant that the CHEC project, which was to be completed in 2020, today only has 20 of the 117 kilometers built, and now has a completion date of 2024, Costa Rican news site CRHoy reported.
In Jamaica, E.G. Hunter, executive director of the National Works Agency, met with senior CHEC officials to discuss aspects that hinder the construction of the project to improve the south coastal road, which is more than 120 kilometers long, Jamaican daily The Gleaner reported in July. Among the complaints are the slow pace of work and the lack of maintenance of work zones. The Chinese company assured Hunter that they would step up work and increase public access to reconstructed areas. The project, however, remains unfinished and only 28 kilometers have been inaugurated.
In Panama, CHEC is part of a consortium responsible for the construction of a cruise port. It is also in charge of the construction of a bridge over the Panama Canal. In the latter project, although the work is moving forward, a commission of the Panamanian National Assembly found irregularities in the awarding of the contract, which is delaying completion, Argentine news site Infobae reported.
The same is true in Bolivia, where CHEC bribed state officials for the construction of a two-lane road between the towns of Sucre and Yamparáez.
“The countries where CHEC’s actions are most problematic are those that are small and whose economic capacity is also smaller, which prevents them from complaining,” Farah said. “In contrast, a large country with backing can say ‘let’s stop exporting such and such until China fulfills its commitments.’ That cannot be done by a small nation with no bargaining power, becoming more vulnerable.”
“CHEC is a company that, among others, China uses to enter strategic fields, where they offer a lot at a very low price or lower price than others, many times through bribery,” Farah concluded.