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More questions than answers

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07.DEC.10

Over the weekend, the New Democratic Party held an emergency press conference to announce the party’s plans for international investment projects, which they say will be implemented should the NDP take office.{{more}}

President of the party, Mr. Arnhim Eustace, spoke of “concrete, funded plans for hundreds of millions of dollars of international investment that will flood into this country.”

Included among the eight projects are the completion of the international airport at Argyle; a 1000-unit large integrated residential and hotel resort complex; the establishment of a new chain of regional retail banks with their base in St. Vincent by an international banking group; and significant investments into our technology sector. Mr Eustace said all of the projects are 100 per cent funded, 100 per cent concrete and they will deliver a total of 20,000 new jobs to Vincentian people.

When pushed for details about who the potential investors are, Mr. Eustace said he could not disclose their identity, as he had signed confidentiality agreements. Fair enough.

However, there are other questions that should be answered, especially in relation to the party’s position on the international airport, if the electorate is to feel confident that Saturday’s emergency press conference was not designed simply to win the support of those Vincentians who feel the construction of an international airport at Argyle is a key factor in deciding which party to vote for, but are still not clear about the NDP’s position on its construction.

At Saturday’s press conference, Mr. Eustace said that a major international construction group will partner with an NDP administration to “finally get the Argyle airport into a state of readiness”. Although he said that all the projects mentioned were 100 per cent funded, it was not clear what this partnership with the construction company will entail.

Will the construction company just be contracted to finish the work at Argyle, or will this company also be financing the remainder of the project? Or will another private investor finance the completion of the airport? Who then will own the airport?

The work that is left to be completed at the airport includes the balance of the earthworks and the paving of the runway and apron, as a contract has just been signed with a Taiwanese firm for the construction of the terminal building. This aspect of the project is funded by the government of Taiwan.

Mr. Eustace also said that he had been in discussions for about two years with the potential investors. How is it then, when he was interviewed by Jerry George at the beginning of this year and was asked about seeking alternative sources of funding for the airport should Cuba and Venezuela pull out, Mr. Eustace made it clear that nothing was in the pipeline. Can he explain this? Mr. Eustace also said earlier this year that it would only be after the NDP takes office, and a review of the project by consultants and consultations with stakeholders had been done, that a decision would be taken.

Why then, the decision to pronounce definitively on the completion of the project now, and why at an “emergency press conference” on a Saturday afternoon? Should something as major as this not have been announced at one of the party’s massive rallies?

The other aspect of Mr. Eustace’s presentation which should be clarified is how 20,000 jobs will be created over the next two years by the foreign direct investment projects he spoke about. We understand the confidentiality agreement, but some more detail about these projects, and a breakdown of how these investments will create this level of employment should be given.

Mr. Eustace has said these are real projects, with real investment to create real jobs. Should the NDP take office next week, we hope for our sake that this is true. In the meantime however, we need some answers to increase our confidence that these are not phantom projects, manufactured at the last minute to secure an election victory.

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