Leader of the Opposition Andrew Fahie has implored members of the National Democratic Party government to vote against their own budget at the end of an ongoing debate, if Premier Dr D Orlando Smith does not scrap plans to extend the runway at Terrence B Lettsome International Airport.
So far, six Government lawmakers have contributed to the 2017 Budget Debate in the House of Assembly, and only one – Dr Hubert O’Neal – has stated clearly that the airport project should be pursued at this time.
That, the Leader of the Opposition said, signifies an informal vote of no-confidence against the two main pushers of the controversial project – Premier Dr D Orlando Smith and his deputy Dr Kedrick Pickeing.
“It’s an informal vote of no confidence on the premier and the deputy premier,” Fahie declared while adding that he too does not support the project being undertaken at this time, mainly because it is not clear how the proposed loan will be repaid.
China Communications Construction Company already has been selected as the preferred bidder for the runway project, which the company said it can deliver at a cost of just over $153 million.
Provisions for loan in budget
Considering the strong objection to the project, the Leader of the Opposition explained that a vote for the 2017 Budget in its current form would be a vote for the extension of the airport runway.
“The provisions to get the loans for it (the airport project) is in this budget under the list of things that loans are going to be sought for; and it is also under the mid-term fiscal plan which is a two-year plan. I am here to let the government know that, after I listened so attentively to the members who said to us they want the project but not now, then you cannot pass a budget with any funding for it now.”
“Once you approve this budget with those provisions inside for the airport, then actions speak louder than words. You really would be saying that you are approving the airport… If the government is going to make a stand that they are going ahead with it and they pass the budget with these monies in it, then it is telling the people that all the talk was nice; it was a show, but you have decided to come to the altar and leave with your sins. That’s what this would be,” the Opposition leader further explained to lawmakers.
Banking on the back bench
He also stated that the premier’s final decision on the proposed airport project will signify how he views his backbenchers – most of who are against the project.
Theere are six Government backbenchers in the House.
Four of them – Archibald Christian, Melvin ‘Mitch’ Turnbull, Alvera Maduro-Caines, and Delores Christopher – all have declared that they don’t support the airport project being undertaken at this time. Dr Hubert O’Neal supports the project being done now, while the other backbencher Marlon Penn did not clearly state if he thinks the timing is right.
“It would be saying that the back bench doesn’t have any voice [if the government goes ahead with the project]. We need to hear if they approve what the back bench is saying, or if they disapprove what their back bench is saying about something that’s in the budget. Madam Speaker, you can’t tell me that they in Cabinet and they can’t speak.”
“I already said that I am joining the back-benchers because, if we cannot tell where we are financially, I don’t even see how we could even discuss the budget properly. The airport is worse; that goes without saying; that’s common sense… If we borrow that kind of money now without identifying the funding source – I haven’t heard anyone yet tell me where the funding source is coming from,” added the Opposition leader.
Ministers urged to stand up
He also tried to woo the five ministers of government – Myron Walwyn, Dr Kedrick Pickering, Dr D Orlando Smith, Ronnie Skelton, and Mark Vanterpool.
Vanterpool is the only government minister who, so far, has made his contribution to the 2017 Budget debate, which will continue in the House this afternoon. Vanterpool, throughout his presentation, steered clear of the highly controversial project.
The Leader of the Opposition, who noted Vanterpool’s silence on the matter, said the other ministers of government would ‘leave the territory wondering’ if they don’t state their stance in relation to the matter.
“I am waiting to hear whether the other three ministers are for the airport project now or not; they have to come to the people. Their back bench got up and stand up, and I am proud of them… They decided today who they will serve – their people or the project that they feel could not happen now.”
“You have to stand up for what is right, and I call on the ministers of this government to get up and stand up for what is right. It is a defining moment in your political career,” added the Opposition leader.
He further stated that, when he served as a government minister under the previous Virgin Islands Party administration, he stood up against a controversial project that could have cost him his job as minister of education and culture.
“When I did not agree with a project with my government at the risk of being fired, I went on radio, TV and in this House sitting down in the seat where the minister of education sits down, and got up and tell the people of this country I cannot support it. I nearly lost my job; a lot of people didn’t even know that. But I didn’t lose my night sleep and I didn’t lose my integrity,” added the Leader of the Opposition.
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