After some of his Government colleagues publicly said the territory can’t afford to extend the runway at Terrence B Lettsome International Airport at this time, Premier and Minister of Finance Dr D Orlando Smith yesterday maintained that the project is affordable.
He also tried to shoot down his health minister’s suggestion that the said project is likely to threaten the borrowing guidelines outlined in the Protocols for Effective Financial Management, which the BVI signed with the United Kingdom government in 2012.
“The financial model is showing that the airport is always affordable,” Premier Smith told journalists during a press briefing yesterday (March 8) at the Central Administration Complex in Road Town.
He did not explain the model that he said is affordable.
But, in January last year, minister responsible for airport Dr Kedrick Pickering announced that Government will use a design-build model as opposed to a concession model on the airport project.
Under the design-build model, a private contractor will undertake the project, but the government will do the financing, and will also continue to operate the airport when the project is completed.
The preferred bidder on the proposed project – China Communications Construction Company – said the runway extension would cost $153.4 million.
Premier shoots down Skelton’s concern
Months after the model was selected and the figure announced, five Government lawmakers are among persons yet to be convinced that the project is affordable at this time.
The five are: Melvin ‘Mitch’ Turnbull, Delores Christopher, Alvera Maduro-Caines, Archibald Christian, and Minister of Health and Social Development Ronnie Skelton.
As stated earlier, Skelton thinks the proposed financing arrangement may come close to breaching the borrowing guidelines in the Protocols for Effective Financial Management.
Journalists, at the press briefing yesterday, asked Premier Smith for his thoughts about the concerns raised by Skelton in relation to the Protocols.
He replied: “Of course everybody should have a concern about any project that the government undertakes, and these concerns will be aired. Where there are concerns about the finances, of course they should be aired. But it is also true to say that the financial model is showing that the airport is always affordable.”
Asked if he is suggesting that Skelton is incorrect in his assessment of the situation, Premier Smith said: “I did not say that he was incorrect about his concerns. I am saying what the studies have shown.”
Will make the public understand
While maintaining that the airport project is important to the territory, Premier Smith yesterday stated that he will help the public to better understand the value to be accrued.
“We [in Government] have agreed who will be the preferred bidder [on the project]. That means we will have negotiations with that person. But it also means having continued meetings [and] Cabinet decisions about selecting persons to negotiate and stuff like that. At the moment, that’s where we are.”
“What is important right now is that everybody understands, and we get the public to understand the importance of improving airlift and consequently the extension of the airport to the economy of the BVI,” Premier Smith further said.
He was asked if public consultations will be held before a final contract is signed to undertake the controversial airport project.
“Oh yes, certainly,” Premier Smith.
He noted that projects of the sort take a relatively long time to complete. “We know that to build an airport doesn’t happen overnight. But it is also important to allow the people of this country to appreciate what is needed and the need to improve airlift to the territory. And I will be engaging discussion with the community… Whatever anybody says, whatever the members say, whatever the community says will be taken and impact on what we do.”