Marlon Penn has downplayed suggestions that the National Democratic Party (NDP) government is imploding over the issue of whether the administration should now undertake extension of the runway at Terrence B Lettsome International Airport.
Penn, who is the junior minister of trade, added his voice to the debate over the issue during his contribution to the 2017 Budget Debate in the House of Assembly this afternoon, February 28.
So far, four government legislators have made it clear that they are against the said capital project being undertaken at this time. They are Archibald Christian, Melvin ‘Mitch’ Turnbull, Delores Christopher, and Alvera Maduro-Caines.
Those four government lawmakers stated that their main concern is whether the government is in a position to finance such undertaking now. They added that they support the project being done later.
Concerns being examined
Penn, during his budget contribution today, expressed confidence that Premier Dr D Orlando Smith will take the various concerns into consideration.
“I think we have to consider all the concerns that are raised by all the members to make sure that, when we move forward, we move forward with a project addressing the concerns of the members, and addressing the concerns of the people and the public.”
“I think that is what the premier is doing – taking all the concerns that are being expressed to ensure that the process that is being executed is being addressed with those concerns,” added Penn.
He further stated that he does not think it is appropriate for him to discuss the airport project in the House because a process is in train.
“I didn’t want to debate this project in here because I think there is a process that is happening, and we need to allow the process to happen, and I know the concerns are moving forward. They have to go forward with the process because the people, at the end of the day, are the ones who will have to deal with this issue,” Penn further said.
He stated that, despite Government lawmakers having varying view on the controversial project, there is no truth to claims that the administration is in turmoil.
Penn added that he supports the airport project.
However, he did not clearly state if he wants it done now.
“There is a lot of people who like to create unnecessary strife and division and act as if there is this type of division between us.”
“I support the airport; I think it is very critical to economic development of our country. There are concerns that were raised over and over, and I know that those concerns are being considered… I think it’s the gateway to a lot of the development that will happen in this country in the future; and it has to happen. It’s just how [it is being done], and I think we will work out the how,” Penn said.
Christian, Turnbull want project scrapped
In the meantime, as mentioned earlier, Archibald Christian and Melvin ‘Mitch’ Turnbull today adopted the stance taken by their two female Government colleagues last week.
Christian, who also is the junior minister of tourism, stated that the concerns raised by members of the public are legitimate.
“The question is what it will look like, cost, impact on economic and environmental sustainability of our territory,” he said.
“I too would like to advocate and join our colleagues and those to come so that we should shelf this project, revisit it, and come up with a solution that works for the best interest of the people of the Virgin Islands.”
Christian further stated that his lack of support for the airport project should not be interpreted as him not having confidence in Premier Smith, who also is the minister of finance.
“Our premier’s steady hands have guided us through economic challenges through 2003-2007, and again 2011 to present,” Christian said, adding that he also supports the premier’s stance that the airport runway extension will help to solve the long-standing issue of airlift into the British Virgin Islands.
“I don’t think that any of us would shy away from the fact that we need a new and expanded airport,” Christian further emphasized.
Meanwhile, Turnbull, who represents the Second Electoral District in the House, said there are more pressing issues than the airport project to be addressed in the territory at this time.
“I believe that we should delay pursuing this project at this time and continue the development of our children, our infrastructure, healthcare, tourism, and economic product. Then set our eyes on the airport project… If we use our most underutilized resources – our human resource – the things that we set out to do including the airport will be done by our people for our people,” Turnbull further told the House.
Meanwhile, in December last year, Premier and Minister of Finance Dr D Orlando Smith announced that China Communications Construction Company (CCCC) has been selected as the preferred bidder for the runway extension project.
CCCC has promised to do the project at a cost of just over $153 million, the premier said.
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