‘No exercise for the faint-hearted’
August 12, 2005
‘No exercise for the faint-hearted’

In his road map for an international airport in St.Vincent and the Grenadines, Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves has made it clear that financing a project of such a nature given this country’s economic circumstances, is not an exercise for the faint-hearted.

He said neither is it an exercise for the overly cautious, the pessimist or one stuck in a neutral gear of learned helplessness.

“Financing the construction of an international airport on St.Vincent is clearly a challenge,” said the Prime Minister at the Methodist Church Hall on Monday, as he presented a report on the way forward towards development of an international airport for this country.

International consultants Marshall Macklin Monaghan (MMM) puts the total cost for the proposed International Airport at Argyle at approximately EC$480.6 million or US$178 million.

Prime Minister Gonsalves noted that the acquisition of the lands, houses and other properties along with the earthworks amounts to EC$267.5 million or 56 per cent of the overall cost -more than half of the entire cost of the International Airport Project.

Hence, the local Government and the Governments of Cuba and Venezuela will finance this one half of the project, he stated.

The Government of St.Vincent and the Grenadines will purchase the properties at Argyle from its own cash. Where would it find the EC$83.7 million for this purpose? Prime Minister Gonsalves announced, simply, by selling existing lands owned by the State.

The Prime Minister said the Government has earmarked several parcels of land across St.Vincent and the Grenadines that it is putting up for sale. He said some of these lands are suitable for commercial or tourist developments while others are suitable for and would be sold to residential developers.

He added the funds generated from land sales would be used primarily for acquiring properties at Argyle and promised not to sell any more land than is necessary and desirable in all the circumstances.

In this regard Dr.Gonsalves announced that the Canadian developers who will be building a 240 room hotel complex with spa, golf course, and ancillary facilities at Mt.Wynne-Peters Hope and a hotel at St.Hillarie in Bequia will shortly be signing a contract for sale of some lands and lease of others with the state owned company, National Properties Limited, in a sum in excess of EC$20 million.

The Prime Minister disclosed that on Wednesday July 27, 2005, Cabinet approved the vesting of 831.3 acres of state-owned lands in the state-owned International Airport Development Company (IADC) who is now working with the Lands and Surveys Department, National Properties Limited, and the state owned National Investment Promotions Inc. to effect the sale of most of these state-owned lands. Preliminary estimates put the value of these lands in excess of US$100 million.

In order to facilitate the immediate commencement of the purchase of properties at Argyle, the Government, through the IADC and with Cabinet’s approval, has successfully negotiated a bridging loan of EC$20 million from the National Insurance Services (NIS). Dr. Gonsalves noted the loan will be promptly repaid from the proceeds of the sale of the state-owned lands.

The Prime Minister used the opportunity to announce that both the Cuban and Venezuelan governments have agreed to partner with the government of St.Vincent and the Grenadines to do the earthworks substantially as a grant. This component of the project is estimated at EC$183.8 million.

He said, further, Cuba’s assistance with the overall design of the Master Plan for the Project is an additional contribution in value of at least US$10 million.

Four other countries that the Prime Minister said were part of the “coalition of the willing” have agreed to partner St.Vincent and the Grenadines in the construction of the international airport. These countries he disclosed are Canada, Mexico, Taiwan and Trinidad and Tobago.

The Prime Minister recalled that at the end of his April visit to Mexico this year he had signed a joint Communique with President Fox in which the Mexican President offered to assist with the building. Dr. Gonsalves said though St.Vincent and the Grenadines have not received confirmation of the precise size of Mexico’s contribution, he remains confident that Mexico will assist substantially. Additionally he said that President Fox has made a commitment to provide St.Vincent and the Grenadines with all the cement that is needed for the international airport at a highly concessionary price.

Canada, Taiwan and Trinidad and Tobago’s contribution will be announced when they are finalized.

Dr.Gonsalves said provisions are made for the private sector to play a role in the project.

“Naturally, we cannot determine the size of the private sector’s input until we have ascertained precisely the quantum in grants from friendly governments or soft loans through their instrumentality,” said Dr. Gonsalves.

He said based on the Government’s discussions with donor countries and considering the components for which assistance has been earmarked, the Government may have a funding gap of US$20 million for which it might need private sector funding.