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The Caribbean Development Bank, one of the main sources of developmental financing for St. Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG), says it will be accelerating the disbursement of several loans to the country in response to the prevailing realities.

“And let me probably announce first, the punch line that came out of our discussion is that … the bank is committed to work with the Government of St. Vincent and the Grenadines and I want to underline accelerating, disbursements on all existing projects that we have that can help move the reaction, the response that we have to not only the eruption [of La Soufriere volcano] but also COVID in the background to help move St. Vincent and the Grenadines faster out of where we are to a better place as soon as we possibly can,” the bank’s president told a press conference in Kingstown on Friday.

Hyginus “Gene” Leon noted that the government has announced an October reopening of school, adding that the CDB would like to move on the schools repair project as quickly as it can to facilitate this “to the extent that we already have a project and a loan in place to work on that”.

Leon, who was making his first visit to SVG since taking over the presidency of the CDB on May 4, gave the press briefing along with Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves on day two of his visit.

He spoke of the Basic Needs Trust Fund (BNTF), adding that BNTF 9 was just completed and the new cycle, BNTF 10, is starting.

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“And this is mostly focused on improving livelihoods in communities, whether it is providing access to schools, doing footpaths, doing lighting, that sort of line, keeping people in a sustainable place”.

He said that given April’s eruption of La Soufriere, issues related to novel coronavirus pandemic, and the hurricane season, “we are going to look at how we can accelerate that.

“… front load, fast track as much as is possible to help to get even more benefit to people in that particular light.”

There are projects on national disaster management that the bank is looking at how it can move a little quicker, the CDB head said.

He mentioned the two large projects, namely the Sandy Bay sea defence project and the Port Modernisation Project in Kingstown.

“There is still some work to happen in that space that, again, we are looking to move on a little quicker with a view to getting this; advancing disbursement in this as quickly as we can,” he said of the Sandy Bay project.

Leon said that the port project is a very large project from the CDB’s perspective, and while actual construction of the port has not begun, the project is moving rapidly.

Leon visited the site on Thursday.

“And I was very pleased not only to get a view of the port but equally, the new area where the new port will be built,” he said.

He told the media that he wanted to highly commend the port project “because I think this project is potentially transformative for the economy of St. Vincent and the Grenadines and the quicker we can get it going — and it may take a good three years in terms of building, but the quicker we can get it started and moving, I think the quicker we will be towards realising the benefits of that particular project.”

He highlighted the significance of non-borrowing members of the CDB, noting that the UK Caribbean Infrastructure Partnership Fund, through which London has made available 330,000 pounds sterling to assist with transformative development projects such as the port.

“… So there are a number of projects that are on-going and we are, at the same time, PM spoke about looking at the broader development thrust, the broader policy advice as to how we can work for the benefit of people,” Leon said.

He said the CBD is discussion with the government on how best they can work together as the port project has to be seen “as an anchor and from the which the tentacles, the different elements, will actually be linked in, so that you can build on the benefits of that port project or port modernization project to help spur development across the entire sector.

“So we talk of it as a port project but it is more than a port project. It is an anchor, a spur for the development of the country and how one moves from here.”

He said that part of the discussions that the CDB will continue with the government is to see how to integrate all those projects within a broad development focus and how they can go ahead doing this in a formalised sense.”

Meanwhile, Gonsalves said that the World Bank narrowly eclipses the CDB as SVG’s main developmental partner.

As of September last year, the government owed CDB in excess of $330 million

“Really low-cost money, very good terms,” the prime minister said, adding that there are big projects on which the government has not drawn down monies.

Gonsalves said these include nearly $40 million for the Sandy Bay sea defence project, nearly $40 million for the repair of nine schools, and just over $100 million for the port.

The prime minister said that the CBD is not just a lender of developmental funds but is also a policy advisor and an all-round developmental partner with us.

“CDB has made a tremendous impact on the development of St. Vincent and the Grenadines since 1970 — since the bank was founded and operational and lending money,” Gonsalves said.