Heat in Parliament yesterday as Government and Opposition clashed over revelations that the new Tobago airport terminal could end up costing $1.1 billion.
This was after Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley confirmed that in addition to the $870 million construction cost of the terminal, there is also a process for land acquisition costing $300 million. He gave the information while replying to a question from Couva North MP Ramona Ramdial about the increase of the estimated cost for the terminal from $500 million to $870 million.
Rowley said $500 million was an approximate figure given three years ago and didn’t include proper designs. He said when properly conceptualised, the engineer’s estimate was $881 million. When the issue went to tender, the figure changed to $870 million on the specific designs.
Rowley was critical of Ramdial’s suggestion that the increase from $500 million to $870 million was exorbitant. He pointed to projects under the former People’s Partnership administration, including the wastewater plant and Point Fortin highway.
“This is for Trinidad and Tobago. It brings Tobago’s economy as a contributor to the national economy as we grow the tourism product. We don’t find it exorbitant at all,” he added
When UNC MP Vidya Guayadeen-Gopeesingh asked if the $870 million included land acquisition costs, Rowley said that was construction costs and there is a land acquisition estimate of $300 million.
Oropouche East MP Dr Roodal Moonilal again asked about the land acquisition cost. Rowley, noting that he had just explained that, repeated the $300 million and $870 million costs.
“What’s so difficult to understand?” he asked.
Moonilal then asked: “Does Government believe $1.1 billion-plus is value for money for a terminal? For one terminal?”
Rowley replied with annoyance: “I just said yes! It’s a major investment of national infrastructure, in this case for Tobago and expansion of their tourism facility! We anticipate there will be significant growth in Tobago and one facility to bring about that growth is a proper modern terminal to handle larger aircraft in Tobago!
“Anyone with an interest in Tobago will know the current facility is an encumbrance and a hindrance to tourism in Tobago, so I don’t understand what my colleagues on the other side have a problem with constructing a terminal in Tobago for $870 million but they had no problem giving OAS $921 million.”
UNC MPs began shouting back with Rodney Charles half rising from his seat, pointing fingers.
Rowley roared back: “You could say what you want! The people of Tobago will get their facility. This government will ensure (it).”
House Speaker Bridgid Annisette-George had to call for order.
Rowley said he had no specific figure on how many Tobagonians will be employed in the construction phase of the project, but said he knew the opportunity for them to get employment would arise. He said the fact the project was being done by a Chinese company didn’t mean Tobagonians wouldn’t participate.