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KINGSTOWN, St. Vincent – The international airport at Argyle will cost EC$1.1 billion (US$407 million) to construct and not EC$652 million, Opposition Leader Arnhim Eustace said last week, citing a study conducted by his party.

Eustace did not say at the press conference who conducted the study or when it was done.

“I … want to point out that we paid, we did work for a study to find out what we think the airport really will cost. The government had said EC$480 million would be the price; the government has now gone to 600 and something million (dollars). The study that we did said it would be EC$1.1 billion,” Eustace said.

He noted that the government had revised the cost of the airport — the largest capital project in the nation’s history — by over EC$200 million.

Eustace was responding to a question from Jerry Scott, a former works minister under the New Democratic Party administration.

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“Two of our parliamentarians were in England recently on a course and they met a former member of parliament from the ULP in England promoting airport development,” Scott said as he asked Eustace to “give us some idea of what other funds are expected for the airport”.

Scott was also doubtful that the airport would be completed by the 2013 deadline announced by Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves, who said the facility would become operational in early 2014.

Former technology minister Dr. Jerrol Thompson, now Director of Special Projects in the Office of the Prime Minister, in March updated Vincentians in High Wycombe on the progress of the airport, according to a press statement for nation’s High Commission in the United Kingdom.

Eustace said that the last contribution to the construction of the airport was Taiwan’s US$26.5 million for the terminal building, which is being constructed by a firm from that Asian ally, a member of Gonsalves’ “coalition of the willing” — recently the “pact of the committed”.

“Individual donors don’t want to mix up their money with others. If we have a large project, they will say, ‘Listen, I will do the terminal building.’ Because what they want to do is get the procurement on that. They want their companies to bid and have an advantage in that area so that they can win back, they can get back the money,” he said.

He further said that he did not know where funds would come from to complete the earthwork, 40 per cent of which remained unfinished, according to a project update last November.

While Cubans are doing the earthworks as part of their contribution to the project, Eustace said their salaries were being paid by Vincentian taxpayers and not by Venezuela, as the Hugo Chavez government in Caracas had promised, according to Gonsalves.

Eustace said monies for those wages might have come from the US$50 million loan Kingstown secured from Caracas but added that those monies might have been depleted already.

“I am not aware of any other funds right now for continuing the airport. We have heard of the coalition of the willing but (it) seems that that coalition is small now. And what we have is a situation where we are being owed money now by Venezuela.

“And the prime minister accused me of being ungrateful because I pointed out that they are taking money from the government’s coffers to pay the Cuban workers there, which was the responsibility of Venezuela,” Eustace said, noting that this country has spent over EC$9 million — EC$370,000 per month — on wages for Cuban workers at the airport.

“That cost was to be met by Venezuela. It now seems to me that it will not be met because he (Prime Minister Gonsalves) said I was ungrateful because I raised that matter in Parliament.

“But at the same time, you can’t even clean down in the hospital properly. Material for even cleaning the floors is a problem. … But because Venezuela is contributing otherwise, we [are] afraid to ask them,” Eustace said.

He said that while the government has said it will sell state-owned lands on the Northern Grenadine island of Bequia to help finance the airport, those sales have been slow.

Further, over 60 landowners who were uprooted to make way for the construction of the airport are yet to be paid, Eustace said.

“So I am really doubtful about where the finances are to really finish the airport. … Quite frankly, I don’t know where the money is coming from to finish the airport; that, the government has to say,” Eustace said.

Eustace comments came one month after NDP Vice-President and Central Kingstown representative St. Clair Leacock said that an NDP discussions in February in Antigua with its potential investors in this country also included potential financing for the airport.

He said that the level of foreign direct investment in this country would increase significantly with an NDP government in office.

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