Consultants clamber on board canal gravy train
More details have emerged on the US$40 billion Nicaraguan canal adventure and the party noise from the consultants’ quarter can be heard from space.
It seems that “ordinary Chinese” billionaire Wang Jing, as he modestly describes himself, plans to spend US$900 million on feasibility studies for his canal project that will involve 3,000 consultant engineers and analysts once their hangovers wear off.
That’s $300,000 to each consultant if the money were split evenly, but of course that’s not quite how it works. Some consulting companies are set to rake in huge amounts on this little boondoggle before the first digger’s blade even hits the turf.
Wang said he would be spending the money (or the global investors he claims to have attracted will be spending it) to work out all the possibilities and scenarios involving anything and everything potentially canal related in every respect, including, but not limited to, the design, construction and operations of the canal. Terms and conditions apply.
In fact, so confident is this ordinary Chinese billionaire that he has already dismissed any chance of the project being called off, regardless of the obstacles he actually expects his consultants to come across.
Interesting approach, you have to admit, especially with a project as ambitious as this. Maybe he knows something we don't.
Putting aside the cost of the canal for a moment, difficult as that may be, the actual construction itself will be a daunting task. For a start, the canal will be 286km long, a lot further than the Panama.
The geographical features of Nicaragua will certainly present their share of obstacles, too, both physical and technological. It seems the canal will cut through river valleys in the eastern part of the country and pass through Lake Nicaragua, the largest fresh water lake in Central America.
Wang told the local Hong Kong media that construction would begin at the end of next year and finish by 2020, and to “control costs”, Wang’s company HKND will build cement and steel factories, presumably also in Nicaragua.
US$40 billion is more than Nicaragua’s GDP and yet the second poorest country in the Americas will have no stake in the project. It will outsource everything to a Chinese businessman with no experience of infrastructure building or even of construction.
Unsurprisingly, not everyone is jumping for joy. According to Bloomberg, the project is running into political obstacles as well as drawing criticism from a former presidential candidate who is calling for a referendum on it.
There is plenty that stands in the way of Nicaragua ever getting its own canal, not least of which is that it was a ridiculous idea when first proposed in the 1800s and it is a ridiculous idea now that will never see the light of day.
It remains to be seen what the real motives are of this ordinary Chinese billionaire. Who knows, maybe Wang's only aim is to join hands to the great trumpet sound of human self-improvement.
“Let us join hands to the great trumpet sound of human self-improvement,” he said in a June 14 ceremony in Managua alongside Nicaraguan president Daniel Ortega.
And there you have it.