The government is being challenged to go public with information regarding the conditions under which it is entering into a contract to extend the runway at Terrence B Lettsome International Airport on Beef Island.
Social commentator Julio ‘Sam’ Henry threw out the challenge this week while claiming that, based on information obtained, the Chinese contractor is seeking – among other things – various concessions, and even permission to mine rocky material and set up an asphalt and concrete batching plant.
“The Chinese want temporary land structure which include but not limited to site office, camp storage yard, precast yard, concrete and asphalt batching plant, site for disposal, parking area, etcetera should be made available to the contractor free of charge.”
“The Chinese contractor’s intention is to set up an asphalt and concrete batching plant near the site within 10km…” Henry said he has been told in documents received from a highly placed source.
He continued: “They are going to need a lot of rocks… The Chinese company realized that the market price for rocky material on the island is relatively high. The Chinese company is willing to negotiate the contract price downwards, so the government will be able to provide land and necessary permission and approval to allow the Chinese company to mine the required amount of rocky material.”
Henry also stated that the document in his possession shows that the company – China Communications Construction Company (CCCC) – had asked Government for an exemption from duties including Customs duty and income tax.
In response to questions posed in the legislature by Opposition Leader Julian Fraser last month, Premier Dr D Orlando Smith had stated that the Chinese company had not brought up any request regarding concessions, which would include tax exception.
Works won’t benefit local economy
The premier also gave an assurance last month that it is his government’s “overriding objective to ensure a significant local involvement in the project”.
But, according to Henry, the information he has received seemingly contradicts the premier’s promise.
“Why I am against the Chinese thing; where is the infusion or stimulation into your local economy? We got two concrete plants; we got asphalt plant; we got trucking; we got all kinds of stuff… Where are the opportunities for employment? Where is the entrepreneurship? Where is the exchange of technology information to our people?”
“You (Government) have a hard time borrowing money. That’s why you got to turn to the Chinese bank to borrow the money [for the project]. That’s why you have to seal the deal. Everybody knows; everybody understands that. But, in the long run, where does that put the BVI?” Henry continued during his ‘Open Mic’ programme broadcast on both radio and television.
Cost to increase; gov’t to pay
The National Democratic Party government has announced that, based on the shortlisted bids submitted, the Chinese company promised to do the airport project at a cost of $153.4 million, while IDL-McAlpine proposed a cost of $198.9 million.
Henry reasoned that, although the cost proposed by the Chinese company is less, it will turn out to be far more expensive – possibly reaching some $200 million, when all the requested concessions are taken into consideration.
Even worse, added Henry, the Chinese company has made it clear that, if the project overshoots the amount stated in the bid, Government would have to foot the additional costs.
“How you (Government) going to pay back $200 million? That’s what it is going to come to,” Henry further said.
Taken to parliament signed
Now that Henry has placed the information obtained into public domain, he hopes the government will do likewise ahead of the contract signing.
“The information is there. Why they ain’t giving us the information? If it is legit, if it’s real, if there is nothing to hide or be ashamed of, the public who voted for the government should have access to it (information).”
“The plan is to sign it (the contract) before it gets to the House of Assembly, so there is no debate when it gets to the House; it’s a conversation; it’s a rubber-stamping process,” Henry added, while claiming that two members of Cabinet are opposed to the conditions laid out by the Chinese company.
He emphasized the need for more transparency especially considering the reputation of the company selected to undertake the airport project.
‘Bigger disaster than BiWater’
Another local talk-show host, Donald DeCastro, used a portion of his radio programme this week to also attack the credibility of the Chinese company, which had been blacklisted by international organizations such as the World Bank.
DeCastro based most of his claims on an online article entitled: ‘Blacklisted Chinese Bridge-building Company has History of Backhander Deals’. In that article, the company is accused of – among other things – inflating costs of projects, strong-arming governments, and bribing officials.
DeCastro, during his Straight Talk radio programme, further claimed that ‘the airport project is a bigger disaster than the BiWater” fiasco involving the BVI government.
Meanwhile, former general election candidate for the Opposition Virgin Islands Party Rajah Smith, during an appearance on DeCastro’s radio programme, also raised concern about the proposed airport project.
He urged residents to make their concerns known to the government. “This airport project would be probably one of the largest contracts – one of the largest cost implication that our territory in recent times would undertake. It is something that residents/citizens of this country must take a look at and think about it. If you don’t support it right now, I think you should call your [elected] representative,” Smith said, adding that he will encourage his district representative Julian Fraser not to support any loan funding being sought for the project.
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