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We all must strive to make AIA work – Opposition Leader

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Leader of the Opposition Dr Godwin Friday is in agreement with Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves that we all must strive to make the Argyle International Airport (AIA) work.

During his first contribution to the Budget debate as Opposition Leader, Friday stated that failure of the AIA is not an option.

“I agree with the Prime Minister when he said in his Budget address that we must all strive to make the airport work. Mr Speaker, this is a very big deal for the country; failure is simply not an option.”

However, Friday noted that while he agrees with the Prime Minister that we need to make the airport work, there also needs to be a plan in place for the sustainability of the facility.

“The bottom line is that the airport, which they claim is ready… the country needs to see a plan going forward to make it work,” he noted.

The Opposition Leader noted that he is very concerned about the situation at the airport and further enquired about the work being done on the airport runway. Saying that he would want an answer from an engineer, not a political figure, Friday said he had been told that the runway is being affected by pavement failure, which could continue to happen because water is coming up through the sub-base.

“…because there is no sheeting that would prevent the fine silt from coming up and affecting the asphalt that it creates these soft spots that have to be addressed from time. I am told, Mr Speaker, that this is a very serious problem,” he stated emphatically.

Friday noted that he also had concerns that the Eastern Caribbean Civil Aviation Authority (ECCAA) had granted approval for the opening of the airport, yet work was still being done.

Claiming that the Opposition has never dismissed the idea of the AIA, he said what they were demanding is that the project be done properly and that there be proper accountabilty.

“What we are demanding, however, on behalf of the people, is that if the project is going to be done let it be done right, more so on the technical and the financial respect,” Friday explained.

“Moreover, anyone who doubts that we are supporting the project, even with all its difficulties, could simply recall that on several occasions, we voted in this parliament to approve finance to construct the airport, even though we had problems with the way in which it was accounted to us,” he stated.

Additionally, Friday said he was against the manner in which the construction of the project was politicized.

Citing examples, he recalled the arrival in the country of the first set of earthworks machinery, which were paraded to the construction site draped in red, and more recently, the landing of a chartered flight at the unfinished airport on December 6, 2015, three days before the general elections, to cheers from a sea of red-clad persons.

“What was that? Was that for technical reasons or for political reasons,” he asked.

The Opposition Leader said another issue with the project was what he considered to be a lack of transparency and accountability with the finances of the AIA.

“The original cost was announced to be $481 million, sometime in 2015 it had raised officially to $729 million. We were told yesterday that the cost is $700 million and that with ‘in kind’ contributions, the value of the work was actually over $1 billion.”

He stated that a study conducted by the New Democratic Party had estimated the cost of constructing the airport at about $1.1 billion at a time when the Government had said it would cost approximately $500 million.

Friday demanded a comprehensive report on the status of the project, including but not limited to audited financial statements from 2008 to present.(CM)

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