While noting that he will push ahead with extension of the runway at Terrence B Lettsome International Airport despite concerns even within his Cabinet, Premier Dr D Orlando Smith yesterday said the improved facility is expected to pump an additional $500 million into the local economy over a five-year period.
It will also result in at least 5 percent growth in the territory’s Gross Domestic Product in the first year after completion.
Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is the monetary value of all finished goods and services produced in the territory within a particular period of time.
“The businesses plan and economic study around which arguments for the airport expansion project is based demonstrates that, within the first year of the construction of the airport, the British Virgin Islands (BVI) should directly realize in excess of a 5 percent increase in Gross Domestic Product over what we would have realized if we do not embark on this project,” Premier Smith told the House of Assembly during his budget speech yesterday, January 16.
He added that, within three years of completion, the project will contribute more than 20 percent to the GDP.
“This is a reality that we cannot ignore – an added injection into the economy within a five-year period of almost $500 million,” said Premier Smith.
‘Waste of time and financial resources’
The territory’s political leader maintained that the extended runway is crucial to growth, especially in the tourism and financial services industries, adding that the project will help to address the issue of airlift that has been plaguing the BVI.
“Our tourism and financial services sectors are severely disadvantaged with respect to our competitors as a result of the multiple connections required to come to the BVI for vacation or business. This is waste of time and financial resources of individuals who are considering access to our shores,” the premier said.
He further stated that the BVI must establish connections to more international travel hubs. “We must establish direct connections to and from the international travel hubs in North, Central, and South America.”
Premier Smith reasoned that those direct connections will be done in two ‘significant’ ways – the government’s $7 million investment in the privately owned BVI Airways, as well as the extension of the runway at Terrence B Lettsome International Airport.
A costly undertaking
The National Democratic Party government, late last year, announced that China Communications Construction Company (CCCC) has been selected as the preferred bidder for the runway extension project. The company said the project will cost just over $153.4 million.
Premier Smith, commenting on the cost, yesterday told the territory’s parliament.
“That expansion is a costly undertaking and, even among my colleagues, there is a concern that this project will not allow them to always have discretionary funds for other simultaneous infrastructure spending. It is extremely important and entirely necessary. However, the airport expansion is a must for our own economic survival, because it opens the door to other industries and other revenue streams,” he continued.
“Careful economic analysis and projections have been done to determine the affordability of this project, with an estimated sum of $153.5 million. The in-dept analysis has demonstrated no negative impact on our liquidity in the short term, and substantial improvement to the fiscal position of central government in the medium to long term.”
Time will validate the airport project
Premier Smith is convinced that time will validate the controversial runway extension project.
“We have to move boldly with this project. We have made similarly bold steps in the past. We did so with the hospital and sewerage project, and must do so again with the runway extension.”
“And for those of you who can recall when the H L Stoutt Community College, the dual carriageway and the Social Security scheme were proposed, fiery opposition followed. But time has validated all those undertakings, and time will also validate the airport expansion project,” added Premier Smith.
The premier, in the meantime, reiterated that locals will benefit from the construction phase of the project, adding that persons who say otherwise are being malicious.
“I should also make it clear that the people of the BVI will play an integral role in the construction of this project…Any discussion of my government intending to do otherwise in the developmental journey of this territory amounts to malicious propaganda.”
The premier further told the House of Assembly that he is aware that ‘there are questions – as expected – with projects of this magnitude’. The runway, according to Government, will be extended from 4645 feet to about 7100 feet.
Premier Smith promised that his government will provide answers to ‘all questions and concerns’.
He further said, “Let me assure you that the right managerial reporting, transparency and accountability systems will be in place to deliver high standards, value for money, and a project that is completed in the best interest of the territory.”
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