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Bad timing: Sharie DeCastro against airport project

terrence b lettsome international airport

While questioning if the government has been managing the territory’s finances responsibly, member of the Opposition Virgin Islands Party (VIP) Sharie DeCastro said she has ‘grave concerns’ about the proposed extension of the runway at Terrence B Lettsome International Airport.

She said there are far more important infrastructural developments to be done, and she is therefore advising against the airport project at this time.

“An airport expansion may become necessary as we develop as a territory. However, I believe the timing of the project is ill-advised. Are we working in reverse order? If we are going to invite tourists to enjoy a true VI experience, then we must ensure that we show up our most valuable commodities [and] our authentic VI culture,” DeCastro said in broadcast on social media.

She continued: “Does it really make sense to potentially open the flood gate of travel when we have deplorable road conditions; when our hotels need upgrading; our hospital is still in its developing stages; when our schools are poorly resourced; when our finances are in disarray?”

DeCastro suggested that the interest of the British Virgin Islands is being undermined because – among other things – the government has selected China Communications Construction Company (CCCC) to undertake the project with a proposed budget of $153.4 million.

“Stakeholders, we must build local before going global. If we are to expand our tourism potential, we must develop the BVI for our own contentment and allow tourist to be beneficiaries of those improvements. We cannot forfeit culture and heritage for outside investments. We cannot allow our indigenous economy to be undermined and redirected to serve the interest of outside investors.”

The BVIslander further stated that overseas investors – like the Chinese – usually take their profits back to their country.

She therefore urged stakeholders not to prioritize the interest of outsiders over the interest of the country.

And, while calling for greater accountability from Government, DeCastro accused lawmakers of mismanaging the territory’s finances.

“I bring into question the seemingly callous use of our financial resources where, in too many cases, we do not see value for money. How can we guarantee that there will be fiscal responsibility if we have not seen our financial reports/audits for so many years?”

She highlighted the recently built cruise ship pier, as well as overall development regarding the territory’s water and sewerage, electricity, and roads. But DeCastro reasoned: “While we welcome these developments, we do recall there are questions surrounding the prudent use of Government funds.”

Sharie DeCastro. File

Sharie DeCastro. File

In the meantime, Premier and Minister of Finance Dr D Orlando Smith this week told the House of Assembly that his government is still pushing ahead with infrastructural developments, including extension of the airport runway.

He stated that, based on studies done, the airport project, upon completion, will inject almost $500 million into the local economy over a five-year period.

Premier Smith also said persons who have been claiming that locals will not benefit from the construction phase of the project are engaged in ‘malicious propaganda’.

And, regarding the issue of accountability in managing the territory’s financial affairs, Premier Smith promised that the outstanding financial statements/audits will be available by the end of the budget cycle.

He, on Monday, told the House of Assembly: “I am happy to tell you that last week, after completion of the critical 2012 report, we made a number of corrections in our accounts coming out of the PWC and CARTAC recommendations. We have now signed an agreement with the firm BDO to assist the Treasury in preparing the subsequent reports for submission to the Auditor General. I expect that audited Accounts will be brought current by the end of this budget cycle. The Audit reports, prior to 2012, will be submitted shortly to this House of Assembly as well.”

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