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The views expressed herein are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views or editorial policy of I-Witness News.

July 8th 2009: Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves told an invited audience at the National Insurance Services’ Conference Room, Kingstown about the progress of planning, etc., of the Argyle international airport.

At the time, he said, “the most recent estimate of the project is EC$589 million”.

Under the heading “How is all this being financed?” Gonsalves told us “Financing of this airport project is not for the faint of heart; it requires a combination of courage, sound policy, creativity and steadfast commitment.

He further said: “When I elaborated this airport plan on August 8th 2005, I explained then that we will finance the airport with a mix of money from my government, and a large amount of grants from other friendly governments…

“To date, the financing plan has unfolded in very much the way I laid it out then.”

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Not in 2013; it hasn’t. Not at all. Nothing like it.

Well that was then. He told us “from my government, and a large amount of grants from other friendly governments”. He said nothing of borrowing millions upon millions for the project. Not a word about that. Where are all the grants from friendly governments?

To quantify the investment “from my government”, he said, “You may recall that my government’s contribution to the Argyle airport project came mainly from the sale of Crown lands vested in the IADC. … IADC in turn appointed National Properties, a wholly owned government company to sell these lands on its behalf. … The funds raised from National Properties’ land sales activities are to be used by the IADC to purchase the properties and vacant lands on the airport site, and to meet other project related expenditure.”

Again not even a hint of borrowing money, not a hint of involving the NIS. And even worse, having got all that money the IADC failed to pay the 60 landowners for their lands.

The current estimated cost of the airport is EC$652 million and rapidly heading for the magical EC$1 billion.

Under the heading “Negotiations with and Relocation of Homeowners”, he told us “Most would recall that in my meetings with the affected property owners I gave them the assurance that my government will be fair to them in terms of the price they are paid for their properties. I also made it clear, on several occasions, that no property owner would be made worse off as a result of having to sell his or her property to the government for the airport project.”

The problem with that statement is that some 6 years after their land was taken some, 60 landowners still haven’t been paid for their land in 2013. People have died unpaid, some unable to afford medical treatment, some unable to send their children for tertiary education, because no land means no income. And what is worse if or when they are eventually paid, they can claim no interest or compensation.

Gonsalves later went on to say, “With regards to the vacant lands in the airport zone, my government took the decision to acquire all the lands within the first kilometre of the runway so that IADC can take possession and begin construction, while negotiations for compensation take place.”

Then he furthered said, “In a similar way, we will also acquire the vacant land parcels within the second and third kilometres. Even so, I expect the government negotiator, the Chief Surveyor, to continue to offer land owners a fair price for all lands acquired for the airport in Mt Pleasant and Argyle”.

Gonsalves decided to give himself a pat on the back when he said, “In terms of grant funding, my government has been extremely successful in attracting support for the project. Indeed, never before in the history of our country have we so expertly made use of our brains, and our foreign policy, to such good effect!”

What grant funding is he talking about? It’s but a “halfpenny worth” in the scheme of things. He keeps missing out any reference to the huge loans.

Talking of the terminal building, he said, “It will have about 10,000 square metres of floor space, to handle 1.4 million passengers annually”. He went on to say, “this airport will allow us direct flights to North, Central and South America, and Europe, using commercial jets as large as the Boeing 747-400s”.

Now if we analyse the passenger number 1.4 million passengers annually, that amounts to 116,667 passengers a month, 26,923 a week, and 3,846 a day. That is about 10 wide-bodied jets a day (400 seats each), or 80 of LIATS new aircraft (48-seat ATR-42-600s, 48-seat ATR-42-600s and the 68-seat ATR 72-600) a day, or a mix of both. Whichever way you look at it that is a lot of people and a lot of aeroplanes. Is it possible? Is it?

If these figures are correct we will require about 10 big new hotels to accommodate these huge numbers. There may even be room for Mr. Morgan and his Chinese partner to have their casino, remember that discussion on this medium.

Having looked at St. Lucia’s air figures for December 2012, I found a total of 700 aircraft arrived delivering 27,909 arrivals (around 400 each flight). The Argyle figure for a month is 116,667. Is it possible that our arrivals will be four times that of Saint Lucia? Is it possible? I don’t know what the Barbados figures are for December 2012, but if they are three times that of St. Lucia, our figures still beat Barbados by 32,940. Is it possible we will ever have 33,000 more air arrivals in a month than Barbados? Is it possible?

Knowing Barbados airport quite well, I cannot, for the life of me, find any comparison between Barbados and Argyle, Argyle is like a toy garage I use to own as a small child. Will Argyle ever be able to do those numbers? Will they?

Gonsalves said that “the forum is well attended by several regional and international airlines, many of which we will continue to court to have them add St. Vincent to their routes”. He continued, “the process of marketing our new airport will therefore pick up over the next two and a half years, as we develop and implement an aggressive marketing campaign to bring new airlines here”.

Well here we are in 2013, four years have passed since 2009, and the only airlines announced by the PM, is the fifth rate Venezuelan state airline, Conviasa Airline, which was banned from Europe in the recent past for air safety matters. Is this what he is really suggesting as our flag bearer? Our top of the line airline?

So after that, I contacted my aviation man, a man that can open any door in the aviation world. I asked him to speak to his contacts in five top airlines, three British and two U.S. The feedback from all but one was they would not even consider SVG as a route. One of the British said they would fly in on a twice-weekly basis for a subsidy payment monthly in advance by our authorities of US$200 a seat, full or empty. That’s US$80,000 flights inbound; no seat charge outbound. Barbados paid US$100 a seat for years, until they finally established a fairly steady flow rate of passengers. Now, in my reckoning, that’s US$ 640,000 monthly in advance — an expense that could go on for years. That doesn’t even guarantee that the airline will carry any passengers, and a cost of almost US$8 million a year (EC$21.5 million) and that’s just one airline from one country.

If we could convince a U.S. and a Canadian airline to do the same, perhaps we will get some tourist and visitor arrivals. That could only be good, if we can afford it in the short to mid term.

Just before his closing speech, Gonsalves said, “Cuba and Venezuela were among the first two countries to lend support to the airport project. Both President Fidel Castro of Cuba and President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela pledged their countries’ resources to assisting with the preliminary studies, airport designs and to complete the earth works component of the project. These commitments are estimated at EC$280 million.”

Well where are their countries resources? we are borrowing from Venezuela and paying the wages of the Cubans.

He said, “Trinidad and Tobago also made a grant of US$10 million (EC$27 million). …Taiwan too has pledged a substantial amount of financial support to the airport project. In a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) signed on 7th June 2006, the government of Taiwan pledged a grant of US$15 million and a soft loan of US$10 million to the airport project to finance the Terminal Buildings, Control Tower, Roads and Support Systems component of the airport project. …

“On 31st July 2007, in another signed MOU, Taiwan pledged a further US$5 million in grant to this project, bringing its total financial contribution to US$30 million. …In July 2008, I revisited Taiwan to meet with the new President Ma, who reaffirmed, in writing, his government’s support to the Argyle International Airport project and further promised to give favourable consideration to any requests we might make for additional funding, if the circumstances so require.”

He said, “Support for the project has also come from Austria, US$185,000, Mexico, for technical support with our Master Plan. Several other countries have pledged support, in one form or another. These include: Mexico, Malaysia, Turkey, Portugal, Iran, and Libya”.

Wow so where is it?

Gonsalves made these concluding remarks and appeal: “As you can see, we are well on our way towards the realisation of our dream.”

We were not.

“I have recounted the plans that I laid out on August 8th 2005, and our progress towards the achievement of those plans.”

Those plans never included borrowing all that money.

“I commit to you today, to continue to work steadfastly towards the completion of our international airport by the end of March 2012.”

It’s now 2013 and it’s doubtful it will be finished in 2015, if at all the way the economy is going.

“And today, I also invite you all, Vincentians at home and abroad, to join me in this noble endeavour. … I have said before that we cannot invite people to help us build our home, while we stand and watch them work. We must put a hand ourselves. … I entreat you to give generously to this most noble and deserving project, remembering that when you give, you are giving to yourself, your children, and your children’s children.”

I don’t think so; I really don’t think so. I believe my grand children’s grand children will be paying for this project. Badly thought out by someone who has lost most people’s respect because his naivety and lack of reality. Some of you may think it’s worse than that. I will leave you all to your own beliefs.

I think the best possible thing we can do is renege on all the loans that Gonsalves has taken for the airport, ask for debt forgiveness, if they do not play ball just stop paying. At least a new incoming government could get some forgiveness if they plead the incompetence and recklessness of the previous administration (the ULP). Because it’s very obvious that there is no way on this living earth that we can ever repay the volume of debt that we are now saddled with.

I doubt we will ever repay Iran or Iraq or Libya what we owe them, the political situation is such, they will never be organised enough to claim what their previous rulers shelled out. As for Venezuela, Cuba and the ALBA Bank, we can just knock them from the perspective of “fraternal comradeship”.

Mind you, I do not think that Cuba ever gave us any cash. That is just paper moving around a table.

My worry is still for the 60 landowners at Argyle who have not been paid. Will they ever be paid and when?

Peter Binose

The opinions presented in this content belong to the author and may not necessarily reflect the perspectives or editorial stance of iWitness News. Opinion pieces can be submitted to [email protected].

10 replies on “Ten 400-seater jets a day at Argyle. Possible?”

  1. Darrien Ollivierre says:

    This is a very good read. I think Peter has touched on a few areas that some persons probably haven’t even considered in the scheme of things. It paints a worrying picture of the future for SVG in light of the airport in terms of sustainability, income and debt.

    I hope someone can write another article on this general subject giving another take on the possibilities. Many views will help us as a people to come to a good objective look at the matters surrounding the airport.

  2. I’d like to hear the government side o f the story. The entire plan has not been transparent so far. Most Vincentians have not seen the other side of the coin. What Peter has alluded to is a bankrupt country based on his assessment of the debts incurred to build the airport.
    If the government was honest and upfront from the start, there might have been more support for the airport. Business would have started to prepare for the hundreds of visitors that may come to SVG. But most businesses are doing a wait and see, because they don’t have any confidence in the government and its plans.
    Businesses may start building hotels and other forms of accommodation for visitors that may never come. That would be money wasted and money down the drain. When I suggested to an airport supporter that Youngs island should start expanding he replied, ” it will come”.
    That’s why I honestly believe that 2020 will give business folks enough time, to assess the situation before investing in the infrastructures, that will be needed to complement and enhance accommodation for visitors.
    It’s not going to be easy for SVG for a number for years. The airport may have to be taken over by some foreign country, because of the money owed to it. Right now the Grenadines is the tourist attraction for SVG, and most visitors come by yachts, not by air. Mainland SVG has nothing to draw visitors to its shores. The Grenadines on the other hand is a paradise that most Vincentians don’t even realize is in their back yard.
    I don’t have the figures for the number Peter quoted for ST. Lucia, but I can attest to the fact that several planes from several countries arrived daily, while I was there for the 2012 Christmas season. I also walked along a beach where a number of hotels were located. SVG will have to implement package deals that includes airfare, accommodation and meals to make it work for the island. There also have to be year round activities to attract visitors. So somebody should start thinking and planning and stop playing with people’s emotions.

  3. Very well researched and presented. As i’ve always said, we don’t have to agree with all your opinions but should acknowledge good work and ideas.

  4. Last week we borrowed a further US $40 million [EC$107million 520 thousand EC dollars] from the ALBA bank. We were not told we would need another US$78 million only a few days later. Why?

    The Government is slated to go to Parliament today June 4 2013, Thursday, to ask legislators to approve loans totalling EC$208. [US$78million]
    Read this article by Kenton X Chance

    If the ALBA bank are part of the coalition of the willing, why are they unwilling to loan us only US$40. Why must we now go to other banking sources at higher interest to get a further US$78 million. Why?

    Read this article posted by Admin

    Things are getting so far out of control I am becoming frightened for the first time in my life, for the security of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines.

    remember I previously wrote this as a comment

    “It is pretty obvious that we are financially in dire straights, we are totally broke, yet Gonsalves wants to borrow more and more, and more”.

    “I just hope that lenders realise there is a good chance they will never be repaid, perhaps even more than a good chance”.

    “It will get even worse, because even this is not enough money to complete the project. I have done some simple sums and it doesn’t stack up, not at all”.


  5. Instead of all the crap, wouldn’t it of been easier to have completed a proper plan and master plan before we ever started the airport project. Then gone to a proper lender and borrowed the money. If we had done that, the project would of been finished months, if not years ago.

    There is no coalition of the willing, so all this running around the word prostituting ourselves and getting next to nothing in the process, is obviously the action of a man lacking fiscal intelligence. How many millions in travelling expenses have we spent, taking the spouse and other persons.

    Now at the end of the day, we are borrowing like hell has no fury, in an attempt to make up the shortfall from the sudden discovery, there is no coalition, and no willing givers.

    I ask again, seeing as we are reverting to borrowing for the project, shouldn’t that of been first preference in the beginning?

    The whole thing is turning into ‘RALPHS FOLLEY’.



  7. Patrick Ferrari says:

    So what’s new? The coroner’s inquest is a legal requirement, a national as well as an international disgrace too.

    Patrick Ferrari

  8. Vincentians are such a bunch of lazy ass suckers……. they want an international airport for free. The labour of the Cubans have no value?????
    When James Mithell built the Bequia Airport, (when the wind is high no plane can land, and the folks at Moonhole was given no consideration regarding noise), where were all you pundits…. The airport is here, we will finish it no matter what,,,,,
    Hoo rah to Ralph…. The GENIUS none of you could ever be!!!
    It is ashamed what JEALOUSY can do……..

  9. SIMMONS, your just simply a false named pratt of the utmost ignorance and stupidity.

    The Cubans have taken work that belonged to the Vincentian work force, there is absolutely nothing that they have done that a Vincentian from here or the Diaspora could not of done. Even if not all Vincentian, Lucians or Bajans would be able to top up such labour.

    When we started out employing the Cubans, the excuse used was that they brought expertise, well having met most of them and discussed both in Spanish and English what they are doing, I can tell you that some if not all of them are pretty third rate.

    Worse than that to sweeten the pill of them taking our jobs, Gonsalves told us that their wages were being paid by Venezuela. Its my belief now they have failed to pay a cent towards the wage bill, that was just a downright lie, a lie to parliament and a lie to the citizens.

    Paying the Cubans from our own funds has brought about the collapse of our banking system, necessitating the selling of the state bank, and probably as a knock on effect of the approaching collapse of whole banking system.

    Cubans paid three times that of a Vincentian, sending home their wages to Cuba, spent in Cuba, giving a boost to the Cuban economy. That money if paid to Vincentians would of paid rents, mortgages, helped Vincentian sales and services in shops, stores and business’s in general. Some would of been used as savings, helping our banking sector, with people able to pay their mortgages instead of having a record number of mortgage and loan defaults.

    We want an airport for free because we were told it was basically free, that was another huge lie. We were told money and goods were coming from a group of countries described as the ‘Coalition of the Willing’. Other than some tiny help from two or three countries basically that was a lie also. The coalition simply turned out to be a coalition of the unwilling. We were led to believe that between selling our land and crown jewels, and money granted by friendly left wing nations, we would be able to build an airport, no mention of what could well be a billion dollars in loans.

    All this Cuba and Venezuela crap is all about the political ambitions and beliefs, and gratification, of one man. A man who you worship, a man with no regard for the people, a man seeking his own glorification. A man who has no idea about the real world, blinded by communism and dreams of revolution. A man with no fiscal intelligence or expertise.

    Initially the whole funding and details of the airport were a halation introduced by Gonsalves to fool the people. He decided to keep the whole thing outside of parliament, his own personal project. Only now the funding has gone nastily wrong he brings the thing to parliament asking for approval for more and more money from lenders, loans so great we can never repay them.

    Don’t you think we would be pretty stupid to be jealous of a liar?

    To actually try and compare the airport at Argyle with that at Bequia, just compounds the obvious, that you are simply a very stupid idiot.

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