KINGSTOWN, St. Vincent — Leader of the Opposition Arnhim Eustace on Monday said he is expecting “many more” increases in the estimated cost of the international airport being built at Argyle.
Eustace, speaking on his New Democratic Party’s programme on Nice Radio, said he expects the final cost to be EC$1 billion as estimated by a study done under the NDP administration, which left office in 2001.
The former prime minister was commenting hours after Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves delivered a 105-minute speech – a status report of sorts — on the country’s largest capital project ever.
Gonsalves said that the airport will cost EC$650 million, EC$170 million more than initially estimated in 2005. The 2005 estimate was revised to EC$589 in 2007, when final designs for the airfield were completed.
The government is “groping in the dark” and “basic questions” are still unanswered, Eustace said on the programme hosted by Ernesto Cooke.
Eustace also noted that some homeowners whose properties were acquired to construct the project were yet to be paid and were threatening to sue the government.
He further said that the sale of State lands by the government — a pillar of the construction financing plan — were not going as planned and Venezuela was not living up to its commitments to the project.
The Hugo Chavez government in Caracas has not paid the EC$360,000 per month labour bill for Cuban workers as Gonsalves said it would do, Eustace said.
The former finance minister said he wanted signed agreements with the governments that Gonsalves said have agreed to contribute to the project.
Eustace said many persons have not been paid their salaries and allowances for months because the government has had to pay Cubans workers the EC$360,000 per month that Venezuela had promised to pay but had not delivered on.
“I don’t want to hear anything about any coalition of the willing,” he said, a reference to Gonsalves moniker for the partnering nations, which comprises Venezuela, Trinidad and Tobago, Iran, Libya, Mexico, and Austria.
“Why should I believe that Venezuela is going to continue to be the main financer of the project? I have no reason to believe that at all.”
Eustace said the government is “using up a lot of resources” and “squeezing a lot of things” even as the majority of persons employed at the airport are Cubans.
Gonsalves said on Sunday that 154 of the project employees were Vincentians while 54 are Cubans. An additional 80 Vincentians will be employed when construction of the terminal building begins next week, with peak employment at 800, he further stated.
Speaking about the project generally, Eustace said that Gonsalves has a habit of “giving half truths, which give people the impression that everything is nice”.
He said it would be interesting to see the IMF’s position on the airport, saying the international financial institution, which is expected to be in Kingstown for annual consultations this month, will have “a lot to say about that”.
Gonsalves has often said that while the IMF can make it recommendations, St. Vincent and the Grenadines is “not a colony of the IMF”.
Eustace further reiterated he NDP’s position on the airport saying it will hire consultants to advise on the way forward for the project.
He said that instead of helping the airport was hurting the economy, inhibiting the government’s ability to pay millions owed to the private sector, which does not receive interest on these outstanding amounts.