Photo Credit: BVI Platinum News
Quick on her feet, First Lady of the BVI, Mrs. Lorna Smith OBE has addressed allegations which speak to several clauses put forward by the preferred bidder of the expansion project of the T. B. Lettsome International Airport, China Communications Construction Company (CCCC).
The allegations were raised by Cromwell “Edju En Ka” Smith while hosting the finals of the Inter-Secondary School Debate competition on March 15.
In an attempt to entertain a lively discussion, Smith stated that, “It’s in the news that the Chinese are the preferred bidder and they want to set up a layout camp, bring their own food, their own equipment, don’t pay any work permit fees and don’t pay any payroll tax. How does that sound for us?"
This immediately caught the attention of Mrs. Smith, who took to her feet in an attempt to shut down the claims.
“Stop fooling the people,” Mrs. Smith exclaimed.
“The negotiations as far as I understand have not yet started. They [CCCC] are the preferred bidder. Let’s stop fooling the people.”
Mrs. Smith continued, “Let the negotiations start and if those things that you are saying happen to be true, the government would be irresponsible to allow them to happen. Let the negotiations begin.”
It's Not Going To Happen Tomorrow
With another turn at the mic, Mrs. Smith, who noted that she was speaking in the capacity as a citizen of the Territory, passed remarks in response to some comments made at the event, which stated that the Territory is not in a position to finance such an expansion.
She expressed that it takes time to build an airport, adding that the expansion will not happen immediately.
“It takes time to build an airport, knowing where we are now. A point that was made in the House (of Assembly) is that no contract has been signed with the preferred bidder. So we are talking about five years before we are going to get an airport. It’s not going to happen tomorrow; that point has to be made clear," she stated.
The First Lady continued to note that every country in the region that relies on tourism has an international airport, that is capable of taking long haul traffic.
She said, “This country [BVI] relies on tourism and financial services. The people who come to the BVI for financial services need airports. It is important, it's critical.”
She further pointed out that although there are alternate routes to get into the BVI, those experiences are horrible, expensive and tedious.
“Yes, There are three airports that service the BVI---US Virgin Islands, Antigua and St. Maarten. We all know the experience with USVI; it costs us at least $100 extra per person going through St. Thomas."
She added, "The experience is horrible. From the time you hit the ferry, it takes you hours and coming the other way, it is just as bad. It is not the experience we want to give the people who are coming to the BVI.”
Mrs. Smith mentioned that it sometimes take persons 48 hours to get from Antigua to the BVI to conduct business.
"In Antigua, you land from a very pleasant experience in Europe and you have to wait five or six hours for LIAT. It’s a hot box and you wonder if you are going to get home. It has taken people 48 hours, people who are coming to do business in the BVI, to get from Antigua to Tortola.”
She said, “Furthermore, those airports are not ours; we need to have our own airport.”
Mrs. Smith noted, “If we are going to move to the next level of investment, if we are going to increase our government’s contributions and increase employment, whatever it is in terms of the next level, it has to be with an international airport.”