CDF press release causes stir over cost of new airport in St Vincent

Kingstown, St Vincent — A press release on Monday from the Barbados-based CARICOM Development Fund (CDF), quoting CEO Lorne McDonnough as referring to the “US$600 million” [EC$1.6 billion] Argyle International Airport project in St Vincent and the Grenadines, has created something of a stir over the exact cost of the project – something that hitherto seems to have been shrouded in secrecy.

The CDF subsequently issued a request for correction, saying that the figure quoted by McDonnough should have been EC$600 million [US$222 million].

However, according to sources in SVG, the original figure given of US$600 million is likely to be the more accurate one, although SVG Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves has consistently refused to provide accurate figures to date or answer questions in parliament.

In fact, when opposition leader Arnhim Eustace asked for details of the cost of the new airport, Gonsalves replied, “Would you show me the deeds to your house?” and refused to give the information.

The original cost estimate for the airport was EC$480.6 million, which was updated to EC$652 million in August 2011. In May 2013, the currency was switched to a new cost of US$652 million, almost four times the original amount.

“The NDP’s estimate in 2008 of EC$1.1 billion makes more sense than the figures quoted by the governing Unity Labour Party (ULP) in 2008,” a reader wrote at the time.

As one of the lenders and grant donors for the new airport, the CDF ought to be in possession of reliable cost estimates but did not respond to a request for justification of its request to change the cost initially referred to in its press release.

Regardless of the cost, the new airport will eventually be subject to surveys of its operational characteristics and any associated hazards by a number of regulatory and commercial agencies, at which time ongoing controversies over construction standards and susceptibility to cross winds will have to be resolved once and for all.

At that time, any operational risks will be identified and reflected in regulatory advisories and corresponding costs such as insurance premiums for airlines using the airport.

In fact, as one veteran US pilot pointed out, the large sum of money spent in any currency on the new airport might have been better utilised in establishing a new dedicated air shuttle service between one or more of the nearby islands that already has an international airport and St Vincent in order to bypass the problematic service provided by regional carrier LIAT.

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