By Keryn Nelson

Nine years following initial talks of refurbishing Saint Lucia’s Hewanorra International Airport (HIA), a parliamentary motion has been passed to finally facilitate the US$100 million reconstruction works to the facility.

The funding comes via the Export-Import Bank of the Republic of China, Taiwan. 

During a parliamentary address on December 11, Prime Minister of Saint Lucia and leader of the United Worker’s Party, Hon. Allen Chastanet underlined several inadequacies presently plaguing the island’s largest airport. 

He said, “There are a host of challenges including inadequate check-in counters and the absence of automated check-in facilities; inadequate space allocations for the immigration and emigration services; inadequate road infrastructure to facilitate the seamless operations of the ground transportation; the tower and the technical block are archaic and in need of an immediate upgrade; the current facility poses challenges in meeting security requirements; inadequate sitting within the departure concourse; [and] the location of the terminal building does not allow for parking of wide bodied aircraft Boeing 747 directly in front of the terminal.”

To address these concerns the redevelopment project will, according to the Prime Minister, feature a number of new facilities including: a terminal building, control tower, apron taxiway, airfield and ground lighting system, a car park and roadway.

“The fundamental change that has come is the location of the airport terminal. The new terminal is now going to be [located] in the area affectionately known as the “Kaka Bef” [a strip of concrete famous for facilitating drag racing; a popular event amongst locals and visitors]. It will allow works to be done on the new terminal without affecting the existing [one],” Chastanet had previously announced the introduction of modern processes and procedures in the operations of the airport.

Speaking to the USD$100 million loan and proposed terms, the Saint Lucia Prime Minister explained that the loan would be made to the Saint Lucia Air and Seaport Authority and repaid via departure taxes also deemed, ‘Airport Development Charge’ applied to travellers leaving the island. 

Chastanet said, “The loan is repayable over a period of 20 years from the date of the first disbursement inclusive of a five year grace period…” During this time the amount of US$2,195,000 will be paid twice a year “and thereafter at the six-month London Inter-Bank Offered Rate” plus an additional 1.5 percent. 

Put simply by the government’s Director of Implementation, Nancy Charles during an HTC news broadcast, of the US$35 departure tax, “EC$25 goes to SLASPA, [while] EC$35 of that departure tax goes towards the repayment of the loan.”

In January 2018, the Saint Lucian government reintroduced the airport redevelopment charge, which had previously been in place until coming to a halt in 2011 by the then governing, Saint Lucia Labour Party. 

On Tuesday Chastanet said, “The government has already collected EC$25M and have about $5M invoiced above and beyond that. This is good news because this has become important money in order to be able to make sure we can meet the payments we have and to stay ahead.”

However, the move has not come without inciting concern in local spheres including amongst the opposition St. Lucia Labour Party [SLP] – members of which have expressed their disapproval, during the latest House session, of the day’s government’s acquisition of a US$100 million debt. 

“The IMF [International Monetary Fund] has warned the government that this borrowing is getting out of hand,” opposition leader Phillip J. Pierre declared during his address. 

When the SLP held office between 2011 and 2016 their proposed plan was to have an individual concessionaire—a foreign company— undertake the loan that would facilitate the airport redevelopment project. The company would then oversee the full operations of the airport for the next 30 years while offering Saint Lucia regular stipends. However, plans eventually slowed and no nothing materialized.

The HIA redevelopment project is slated to begin in January of 2019 with the aim of completion in time to support the anticipated “growth in tourism,” according to Chastanet. 

The Taiwanese based company, Overseas Engineering & Construction Corp.will oversee the reconstructive work.