KINGSTOWN – Parliament is on Friday (today) continuing debate on the EC$208 million (EC$1 = US$0.37) to be borrowed to help fund the Argyle international airport.
On Thursday lawmakers were divided along political lines as they debated Supplementary Appropriation Bill No. 4 of 2013.
Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves accused the Opposition of political opportunism.
He said they came out in support of the airport ahead of the 2010 general elections but continue to hinder its progress.
But Opposition Leader Arnhim Eustace said the Government’s approach to building the project was like a one-lane track on which there are 12 runners.
Lawmakers lined up behind their leaders, with Government legislators supporting the bill even as their colleagues across the aisle called for some of the money to be allocated to other sectors of the economy.
Parliament must give permission for the government to borrow EC$148.7 million of the amount.
Some of the EC$208 million is to be raised from the sale of state assets, including 40 acres of land on the Southern Grenadine island of Canouan and Government shares in the Bank of St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
But representative for the Southern Grenadines, Terrance Ollivierre, an Opposition lawmaker, spoke out against the sale of the land, saying the sale is being advocated even as residents of the island cannot get land to buy.
‘barking up the wrong tree’
“Mr Speaker, the Honourable Leader of the Opposition said, ‘We want to borrow so much for one project to the neglect of others and when you do that, you are barking up the wrong tree.’ And right now, you are barking up the wrong tree with regard to the people of Canouan because they are upset and they are saying that the sale of this 40 acres of land is simply unacceptable.”
He said that while the Opposition is not against the construction of the airport, they had heard about the coalition of willing nations that would have helped fund the construction.
“We have heard that and we would have hoped that what was said is what would have been done,” he said.
Addressing the land situation in Canouan, Ollivierre said: “The people on that island are finding it difficult to obtain lands to earn their livelihood…
“The young people on a regular basis, they come to me because they want land but they are being told that there is no more land in Canouan for them. So how have we taken 40 acres of those land and give them to others while you are telling the people of Canouan that they can’t get land?” the lawmaker questioned.
He asked if there aren’t other lands in the country that can be sold that wouldn’t “bring such hardship on the people”.
“Because, when you look at the island, it doesn’t seem as if any land has been put aside for future generations and for them to develop and to be able to say, ‘My fore parents have worked this land over the years.’
“And with such development we are reasonable entitled to a small portion to help develop ourselves.”
The Prime Minister, in presenting the bill, told Parliament there was a petition in Canouan against the sale of the lands.
“Yes, the people have called me. I am their representative and I must take the lead in representing the people of the constituency in outlining their concern and indeed, they are very much concerned,” Ollivierre said.
He said that while big development what would happen to the people of Canouan when, with the sale of the land, they “cannot find the means to grow and develop”.
“And that is what they are talking about. What are they to do? And today, in this Parliament, I am only here to express the views and the concern of a people who wish that the international airport …, be built, but in constructing it, no one, regardless of which part of the country you live, must be so adversely affected that they don’t know how their future, in terms of land and development goes.”
He said the residents also opposed the construction of a park on the land several years ago, arguing that they wanted it for residential and commercial purposes.
“And what you have happening today is that this same land is being sold and they didn’t know a thing. What is the conspiracy in this matter?”
Ollivierre responded to the Prime Minister’s comment that the petition was intended to embarrass former Prime Minister Sir James Mitchell whose government sold large portions of land in Canouan at EC$0.40 per square foot.
“We are talking about Sir James, but when he did, he came to the people. And this is one of the things that the people are upset about: that this was done and nobody came to them and said, ‘This is what we are doing and these are the reason or reasons for doing so…
“That is a legitimate concern of the people and they are asking that something be done about this matter.”
The House was suspended around 10:20 p.m. Thursday and resumes at 9 a.m. today.