TAIPEI, Taiwan: – The opposition New Democratic Party (NDP) on Wednesday said an NDP administration would make a decision on the continued construction of an international airport in St. Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) after a thorough review and consultations with “all stakeholders”.
NDP head and Leader of the Opposition Arnhim Eustace explained the party’s position on Tuesday as he spoke to other issues, including economic citizenship and US$1 million (EC$2.7 million), which was deposited into a government account.
“We will not ignore this project. We will approach it with transparent and accountability, which the project deserves. But I am not getting involved in any fly-by-night exercise. I want competent people to review the project and that will be the basis, after consultation, with the public for a decision,” Eustace said.
General election are widely expected this year and Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves has called on the NDP to state its position on the EC$450 million (US$167 million) international airport being constructed on St. Vincent’s east coast.
Gonsalves said only he and his “coalition of the willing”, which includes Trinidad and Tobago, Taiwan, Mexico, Cuba, Venezuela and Iran, can construct the facility.
But Eustace raised several concerns about the project saying that the government did not know the exact cost of the project, no contractors had been employed or tenders put out, and more Cuban than Vincentians were being employed.
He also said Venezuela has not been paying Cuban workers as agreed, and SVG pays EC$360,000 (US$133,000) per month in salaries that Caracas agreed to fund.
“All these things raise questions,” Eustace said, noting that the project, the largest ever in SVG, had been removed from the national budget and placed under the management of the state owned International Airport Development Company.
“I am uncomfortable, I am uncertain, because I don’t know how much the airport costs. I don’t know how much money the government has available for the airport,” said Eustace, a trained economist.
The former prime minister said his party did not oppose the construction of the project but wanted to be assured that funding was available and the necessary studies have been done.
An NDP administration would appoint a team of international consultant to review the project, including additional or alternative sources of financing, Eustace said. (Follow I Witness-News on Facebook)
Eustace also said that his party would consider an economic citizenship programme even as he admitted that a previous NDP administration had made “mistakes” while setting up an earlier scheme, which did not grant any economic citizenship.
He said economic citizenship programmes were not the sale of passports, as Gonsalves said, and likened the programme to a ships’ registry, noting that SVG had the 14th largest ships registry, a revenue generating scheme.
“Once you check out the people well and you are satisfied that they can come and make an investment in your country, then it is something to consider,” Eustace said, adding that his party was considering the programme as it prepared its election manifesto.
“There is nothing to hide about that. And our rationale is that we are looking for ways so that we can improve the revenue situation in this country without putting too many taxes on the people of St. Vincent and the Grenadines,” Eustace said.
He also called on Gonsalves to explain the source of the US$1 million (EC$2.7 million) deposited into the accountant General’s account, saying citizens have to declare the source of any transaction in excess of EC$10,000 (US$3703).
“Why should the government of the country be any different? Why shouldn’t the government respect the laws of St. Vincent and the Grenadines? The situation at the moment is that large sums of U.S. cash have entered into our country without the due legal declaration,” Eustace said.