Dear Prime Minister,
I reference your statements, on August 23rd 2022, at a town hall meeting in Vieux Fort regarding the Hewanorra International Airport Redevelopment Project. First, let me state that the HIA project is among the most crucial to the development and future of our country and forms an integral part of our island’s medium term development strategy, not just because of its far-reaching contribution in terms of creating employment in the south and island-wide, but in terms of building a solid foundation for our country’s future growth; specifically, the projected advancement of our tourism industry.
The statements you made, Mr. Prime Minister, have caused me to further question whether you recognize and acknowledge the importance of this project and the sensitivity and honesty with which it must be handled. Your statements were irresponsible, reckless and completely false. They have the potential to cause damage to our country on numerous fronts.
I was not completely surprised by your misleading statements considering you had previously indicated your lack of understanding for how important tourism was and that you did not know an airport could be higher than a ground floor, despite traveling to other airports around the world.
However, your statements were so defamatory that I am unable to sit back while you jeopardize and undermine the credibility of the Saint Lucia Air and Sea Ports Authority (SLASPA), the reputable international agencies, international and regional financial institutions and other local agencies involved in the HIA project.
In your bid to make everything about “Allen Chastanet” and play petty childish politics, you have completely lost sight of Saint Lucia’s reputation and the impact of this project on the country and the people.
It is common knowledge, Mr. Prime Minister, that you and I hold altogether different views on the Hewanorra International Airport Redevelopment Project. The SLP was the proponent of a PPP arrangement with the IFC which would see our country enter a 30-year agreement, with a foreign entity collecting 60 dollars per traveler, regardless of the fluctuations in the number of passengers. The original plan was to build the airport terminal in the car park behind the existing terminal, a small space, requiring 300 piles. There were many issues with 1 this move: the money the people of Saint Lucia would forfeit and the lack of room for expansion.
Our UWP Government took a more ambitious approach. Keeping in mind the trajectory of arrivals to Saint Lucia, we negotiated and secured a loan with the Taiwanese Government and approved the expansion of the plans into an area which would take into account climate change and future growth prospects.
It must be noted that at the time of the original design, the arrival numbers to Saint Lucia were around 270, 000 and airlift was limited; with flights, especially American Airlines coming into George Charles Airport. The American Eagle flights to George Charles were suspended after a time and when we came into office in 2016, we soon saw growth in tourism and increased arrivals at HIA, hitting almost half a million visitors in one year. Keeping to the original plan would have been myopic as a new terminal in the small location would have been chaotic and caused major congestion. We also had to factor in the plans for increased economic activity in Vieux Fort: the homeporting, the racetrack, the call centers, the hotel developments. Recognizing all those reasons, instead of demolishing the old building that the original plan called for, the decision was taken to keep the existing terminal and retrofit it for cruise passengers and charter flights.
Again, given our ambitious plans for Vieux Fort and the number of new hotel developments planned for the entire island, we would need a larger airport terminal. Appreciating that the land around the airport was quite valuable, the decision was taken to design a two-story building to maximize space.
These are the critical reasons, Prime Minister, the airport terminal was moved and there was the need for increased piling in the new location. On top of the loan we secured with Taiwanese, under our model, the World Bank would in part be responsible for flood mitigation works at the new airport location.
You falsely and conveniently stated, Mr. Prime Minister, that I had personally chosen the new location for the airport, when you know full well, the logic of moving the location was supported by evidence and undertaken by professionals.
To suggest that the cost of piling at the new location in comparison to the old location constitutes cost overruns, is at the very least irrational or deliberately misleading. The fact is the piling at the new airport location came in exactly on budget. There are no cost overruns.
Let’s talk about cost overruns. Prime Minister, you, of all people, would understand the meaning of cost overruns, since the term was made famous when you claimed to have served as “deputy” Prime Minister and Minister for Infrastructure, in the Kenny Anthony administration. For the egregious examples of “cost overruns” you need only revisit countless reports during your previous tenures. For one, the now infamous West Coast Road project!
You also stated that the project was not tendered. This is yet another self-serving outright fabrication. The main contractor was OECC, a Taiwan company that built the St Vincent terminal and has built billions of dollars of roads, airports and seaports. OECC was awarded the contract because concessional financing came from the EXIM Bank of Taiwan. In turn, OECC tendered the piling contract and the main structure; as it would with all other 2 components of HIA. To further strengthen governance and transparency there were three project overseers: OECC, a special Project Unit at SLASPA and Herry International.
Upon taking office, your Government was presented with a well-planned project, with all the financing left in place. For reasons only you can explain, you appear to have aborted this plan. The financing is available, the team is in place and your continued procrastination does not serve the interests of our country. We established the Airport Development Charge for the purpose of funding this project at $35 for 20 years, far less than the $60 for 30 years the original plan would have cost our country. Both you and your tourism minister have been touting arrival figures to the island, yet you continue to delay the airport construction.
Mr. Prime Minister, I implore you to reflect on your statements and the embarrassment it causes to SLASPA and to our Saint Lucian institutions.
I understand, Prime Minister, that you may have already developed a level of mistrust for your current Minister for Infrastructure, however, in support of our approach to the Airport redevelopment, in 2018, he is on the record as having said: “The whole intention is to build a facility that can carry the capacity of visitors to our country. The next step that we are moving forward to is to secure an ideal location in the south where a homeport will be developed to now see Vieux Fort as a homeport rivaling Barbados that will bring even greater economic activity to the people of this country. This can only come from a government who cares, this can only come from a government who has initiative, this can only come from a government with vision.” End quote.
Speaking about the UWP Government’s approach to the airport, your Minister for Infrastructure went further and stated: “I believe that the time has come for us to agree that the people of Saint Lucia, not only need an airport but the people of Saint Lucia need a facility that will generate even more economic activity through the services that airport will offer. The people who will benefit most will be the people in the south, people from Vieux Fort North, Vieux Fort South, Laborie, Choiseul and surrounding areas. As we say this, the airport in itself, and the other facilities of the cruise port, the home porting and all the activity that will come in there with DSH, etcetera, will call for other amenities to be set up.” End quote.
Prime Minister, I advise you to sit with your technocrats, get a full grasp of the intricacies of this project. They have been working at this for several years and have the skills necessary to guide you. If you neglect to do this, I am concerned that your continued politicization of this issue, baseless statements, indecisiveness and conflicting information will jeopardize the hard work that has been done on Saint Lucia’s behalf.
Leader of the Opposition