Parliament on Tuesday authorised with the support of one opposition lawmaker the borrowing of a further EC$13 million for the construction of the EC$700 million Argyle International Airport.
Central Kingstown MP, St. Clair Leacock, supported the bill even as he criticized the government’s handling of the project.
Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves told parliament that the airport – which has missed several completion deadlines since 2011 — will be completed this year.
The opposition said the date is intended to fool voters ahead of general elections, expected by year-end.
Gonsalves, who is also Minister of Finance, told Parliament that the loan will come from a financial institution in Taiwan
The amount required to repay the loan will be a charge on the Consolidated Fund.
“… the government of the Republic of China has already agreed to provide this sum of money and between the embassy here and the official in the Ministry of Finance, all the arrangements are being put in place to have these monies brought to us to assist in the completion of the airport before the end of this year,” he said in presenting the bill.
Gonsalves said the urgency of securing the parliamentary approval was due to the fact that monies that had been approved in respect of the sale of land in Canouan were yet to be received after a falling out between the investors on that southern Grenadine island.
“And we have to get — make sure that the work goes on apace,” Gonsalves said, adding, “And we are nearing completion and we need to make sure we have all the resources in hand to make sure that the work is being done as the management of the IADC, the International Airport Development Company, has planned for it to be concluded.”
In response to the bill, Member of Parliament for the Northern Grenadines, Godwin Friday noted that the loan is in addition to the amounts that Parliament has appropriated to the project over the years “with the promise that by now the skies over argyle would have seen jets flying in from all over the world”.
Friday, who headed the opposition in the absence of Opposition Leader Arnhim Eustace, said that in the last budget, the nation was promised that the airport would have been completed by the end of this year, and that by now “this business of borrowing money to complete the airport would have been behind us”.
He said he gets the impression that when the Prime Minister speaks that the nation must forget about what was done before and “start over from today”.
Friday, however said that he speaks to people across the country and except those who are so committed to the ruling Unity Labour Party that they ignore anything that is negative or critical no matter how plain it appears, Vincentians are tired of hearing promises about the airport being opened and nothing is happening.
Gonsalves also gave an update on works at the airport, but Friday said there was so much vagueness in the language used that he could not accept the promise that the airport would be completed this year or next year.
“Mr. Speaker, the truth of the matter is that we are hearing all these promises, we are hearing all these requests, we are hearing all this talk about investors are coming and all these wonderful projects that are in the pipeline and we are simply to accept it when we have had a track record of broken promises, wild, speculative kind of pronouncements on this airport and we are supposed to accept it when they say give us another five million [U.S.] dollars and we will be done by September.
“Well, I said in the Budget: I don’t believe it, Mr. Speaker. I don’t accept anything that they say about this airport anymore…” Friday said.
He noted that Gonsalves has cited head of the International Airport development Company Rudy Matthias as giving the completion timeline.
“Dr. Rudy Matthias has been wrong so many times. How can you rely anymore on anything that he says? I mean people are not stupid. We can’t be taken for fools, Mr. Speaker. Be realistic,” Friday said.
Friday told lawmakers that a 6-year-old child, after visiting the airport, expressed doubt that it will be finished this year.
“Mr. Speaker, the point is, that child recognised that there is a lot of work left to be done even if a lot of work had been done.
“So why are we misleading people? Is it that you don’t understand what is required or you are just lying to people about it? Either way, it doesn’t look good. And it is too serious a project — the Prime Minster said it himself — for us to be going along and just saying whatever comes to mind,” Friday said.
“People are fed up, Prime Minister. If you think people are not on to this scam that is being pulled over people’s eyes that you think you are going to have this grand opening, whether in November or December, you are going to fly a plane in from somewhere and then to do what? Two months later you go back and starts reconstruction of the airport?”
Friday said EC$13 million is being allocated to the airport at a time when persons can’t get bandages in the hospital and there are potholes all over the country.
He said that is the opening of the airport is a game, the population is one to it.
“The point is, Mr. Speaker, that this government in its conduct of the affairs of this country with respect to the Argyle International Airport has demonstrated that they don’t know what they are doing,” Friday said, adding that the government cannot pretend that the conclusion date of a project of such magnitude doesn’t matter.