The parliamentary opposition, on Tuesday, re-emphasised that it will not authorise further borrowing for the EC$729 million international airport being built at Argyle unless the government provides Parliament with proper accounting records.
Leader of the Opposition and head of the main opposition New Democratic Party (NDP), Arnhim Eustace, outlined his party’s position on Monday in Parliament as the government sought permission to borrow a further US$16 million for the project.
“I’ll say this now and this is the position of our party. We will not be approving any further loans without an accounting of the situation at the Argyle International Airport, including the balance sheet — something that tells us clearly where we stand with the resources that have been used for that project and what is left to be done,” Eustace said.
“No more support unless we get a picture, a detailed picture, of the financial situation of the airport authority,” he told lawmakers during a debate on the bill that was passed without opposition support.
Seven years after construction began, Parliament is yet to receive any financial statements on the airport, which has missed completion deadlines annually since 2011.
Eustace said he has always had his doubts about the project but added that it cannot be abandoned because of the amount of money already spent on it.
He said that the project, the largest capital investment in the nation’s history, has implications for our national debt and the whole economy since its cost is more than half of the country’s GDP.
“So it is a very important project,” he said, even as he noted that the Caribbean Development Bank, and the World Bank, agencies which play an important role in the Vincentian economy are not much involved in the exercise.
“And that bothers me,” he said, adding that over 30 years ago when the Cato government was building the hydro project at Cumberland, the government borrowed EC$84 million.
Eustace, who later held the number two position at the CDB, said he later found out that the bank didn’t want to get involved because they were concerned about what was going to happen in terms of the impact of the hydro project, including rate of return.
Therefore, the CDB financed the line loss project, measuring and reducing the loss of electricity and this made a contribution to the overall strategy and development of the project.
“So they looked at it as an exercise that could not be achieved on the basis of the study that had been done and decided what they would finance.
“I want to know why those institutions who have been good lenders to St. Vincent and the Grenadines are not much involved in this project,” Eustace told Parliament.
“It’s an important question. Institutions who are lending to you constantly want to see your economy do well so that their loans can be repaid. And when you go through such a massive project, the biggest in the history of your country, and they have no involvement, to me that is a warning that there is a concern and that concern must be addressed. And that is what we talk about what you do to the development of our economy,” he said of the airport.
Speaking on his party’s radio programme on Tuesday, Eustace said he wants the government to report to Parliament on how monies allotted to the airport have been spent.
“We have spent hundreds of millions of dollars now over a period since 2008 and you cannot get a record of what the situation really is.”
He said what is known is that a number of bills have been paid, while others, including to 61 former homeowners for their properties, amounting to millions of dollars, remain unpaid.
“We know that some activities have been financed … but we don’t have any information of these expenditures and what is really outstanding and what is really to come, because we don’t believe that the airport is going to open this year. And we believe that further expenditure is going to be necessary.”
The government has said that the airport will become operational by year-end.
“And before we go any further with approval of loans for the airport, I want to know, we want to know, how much money had been spent, what it was spent for, before we go any further.
“I am tired of hearing it would be ready in 2011, it would be ready in 2012, it would be ready in 2013, it would be ready in 2014; now I hear they are having some kind of opening in 2015.
“The time has really come. We have waited more than long enough and any government which is financing the largest capital project in our history must be more responsible, not just this piece-by-piece approach, which they are calling a creative approach. I don’t see anything creative about it at all in building the airport. I don’t accept that.
“What it is doing is making a mess of the financing of the airport and I am not sure we are getting the best value for money in relation to the airport,” Eustace said.
“That debate is going to continue for a long time. They have shown no interest in providing the updated information. All they do is grandstand and say that NDP don’t support.”
He, however, said that the NDP “has an obligation as an opposition party to also monitor what they are doing and if we feel things are not going well and if we can’t account for money that has been spent in name of the people of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, then we have to ask for it to be accounted for.”
He said the government initially did not bring to Parliament a lot of things related to the airport.
“And now we are putting our foot down. Enough is enough. We want a record of the expenditures made by the government of St. Vincent and the Grenadines on behalf of the people of St. Vincent and the Grenadines in relation to the airport project.
“There is no point shouting that NDP don’t support the airport. Since 2010 we made a definitive statement that we will finish the airport and when we get into office we will put some consultants to work on the matter to see how best we can continue with that approach to get the airport completed.”