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Premier sings different tune: Chinese seek concessions

 Julian Fraser

Julian Fraser

Premier and Minister of Finance Dr D Orlando Smith is now claiming that China Communications Construction Company (CCCC) is seeking concessions from Government regarding plans to extend the runway at the government-owned Terrence B Lettsome International Airport.

That declaration came a few days ago – nearly three months after Premier Smith told the House of Assembly that CCCC was not seeking concessions, which could include exemption from paying income tax, Social Security and National Health Insurance contributions, as well as work permit fees.

On both occasions when the territory’s political leader stated the two different positions, he was responding to questions posed in the House of Assembly by Opposition member Julian Fraser.

Fraser was trying repeatedly to ascertain whether Government was considering concessions for CCCC, or whether CCCC had sought concessions from the National Democratic Party administration.

“No special concessions are currently being considered in respect of the Terrence B Lettsome International Airport Development Project,” Premier Smith said back in December, while he also made it clear that CCCC did not request any concession.

At the time, the premier however noted that the position he was taking was likely to change in the future.

It actually changed, albeit partially.

Premier Smith is now saying CCCC is seeking concessions, but his government is still not considering them because negotiations are yet to start.

“There have been requests made by the preferred bidder (CCCC) for concessions. However, since we have not commenced negotiations nor have we selected a contractor, we are not currently considering any such requests,” he told Fraser a few days ago.

The premier, however, did not state specifically when CCCC had sought the concessions. Neither did he disclose the specific type of concessions the company had requested.

Funding being sought in China

Premier Smith, in December last year, also stated that CCCC had promised to undertake extension of the runway at Terrence B Lettsome International Airport within a proposed budget of $153,432,572.

Since then, he has been facing immense pressure within his own administration to prove that Government can now fund the proposed project, considering the many other pressing issues facing the British Virgin Islands.

When the premier was asked a few days ago if he is seeking funding for the airport project from the Chinese, he stated that funds are being sought in various markets.

“We are considering financing options from a wide spectrum of credible financial institutions around the world, including institutions in this region, the United States and Canada as well as in the People’s Republic of China,” Premier Smith said in response to Fraser.

CCCC is owned by the Chinese government.

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