Photo Credit: BVI Platinum News
Long time National Democratic Party (NDP) supporter, Bishop John Cline has scolded government over the move to go ahead with the development of the T.B. Lettsome International Airport at this time; a move he said will put the Territory in further debt.
Cline, who also holds the position of Chairman of the BVI Health Services Authority (BVISHA), said that the country's finances are not stable to undertake such a mammoth project. He also warned against the decision to choose a Chinese company to carry out the project, citing that the Chinese will flood the BVI.
"The airport project right now, I am not saying never, but right now, I mean it’s a bad idea. I mean, there are other ways that we can get traffic into the BVI and get a greater return for a lot less money; make visitors feel comfortable, treat them with care," he said on the radio.
He said that they need to fine tune immigration, customs and improve the sea port.
"If we improve the transportation from our neighboring islands, I think there is tremendous opportunity to think outside the box…instead of going to spend a $153M on an airport when our financial stability is not so sure...But if the advise is to put us into more debt at this time..."
Late last month, government announced that China Communications Construction Company (CCCC) was selected to carry out the expansion at $153,432,572.10.
Cline, who is known for his vocal views against the BiWater agreement under the former Virgin Islands Party (VIP) government, said that he supports a business case on the airport.
"But what I am saying in terms of where we are now financially, let us ensure first of all that we are more stable financially before we commit to another $153M, $200M, because we know there will be overruns. Flood the place with Chinese who will bring in their laborers, who want a village, working village, import everything," he lamented.
He asked that government be wise and not do the project just to please a few, while putting the country in jeopardy financially, "because the airport is not going to generate the kind of revenue that we need to pay that bill."
The businessman said that there are other countries such as Anguilla that does not have an international airport because they are focused on improving their infrastructure first, but are still finding ways to take care of their guests.
"They (tourists) go there...they take care of their guests in ways, not just big jets flying in. I don’t think that's something we need right now."
It is no secret that several government members had expressed concerns about the government moving forward with the project at this time, given the financial situation.
Extension of the runway from 4645 feet to about 7100 feet will allow current airline fleets (737-800 and Airbus 320) to fly directly to and from continental US and Latin America. The project is being done under the Ministry of Natural Resources and Labour, headed by Deputy Premier, Hon. Dr Kedrick Pickering.