Vincentian Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves has announced that his government is ready to “bring some near finality” to the issue relating to monies owed to property owners from whom lands were acquired to facilitate the Argyle International Airport’s near decade-long construction.
Sometime in February 2019 Finance Minister Camillo Gonsalves told Parliament, “as of June 7th the outstanding amount for the lands with deeds was EC$19.5M, inclusive of interest, while the sum owed on lands without deeds was EC$13.7M, inclusive of interest so that the grand remaining total is EC$33, 109, 354.”
On Wednesday July 29, Dr. Gonsalves told listeners to his national midweek update, on NBC Radio, that he issued instructions to the Director General of Finance and Planning to settle part of the burgeoning debt.
“We have approved at Cabinet; we are going to make a payment of immediate cash outlay of $9.43 million. We’re going to pay up to a maximum of $500,000 per person to landowners and the numbers which we have – we have 32 persons on the list who owned land with deeds. There are some people still haven’t presented their deeds. So until that is clarified I really don’t know who to pay,” PM Gonsalves noted.
In the same sitting of the Vincentian House of Assembly, last February, East Kingstown MP Arhnim Eustace prompted Minister Gonsalves to indicate “the value of the lands taken by the government at Argyle which was used for construction of the airport and still not yet paid for and when will such payments be made?”
MP Gonsalves responded while noting, “the majority of the 125 plots are lands which we are trying to ascertain who to pay because there is no deed for the land.”
Although PM Gonsalves’ update did not include precise disbursement dates, he provided a general guide as to how payments would be managed.
“8 persons have a valuation greater than $500,000 so they would get up to $500,000 immediately and the rest of that money we will pay in bonds; 5 year bonds with interest in the normal sinking fund rate, in circumstances like this.
“24 persons whom we have on the list with values of less than $500, 000 – ranging from as low as $8, 000 to $450, 000 – I’d pay them off. I would pay off those 24… I want to get that remaining set of persons who have monies still to get – you know I should point out that interest has been accruing on the monies which we owe so don’t, persons, individuals there mustn’t feel that persons are hard done by that they’re not getting – they’re having interest on their money; but of course you want to get your money in your hand, clearly.”
It is unclear what the updated balance owed now looks like given the recent allocations coupled with the commitment undertaken by Minister Gonsalves, last February, to “address the settlements of these amounts owed to landowners” in tandem with the International Airport Development Company. Then, he noted, “we continue to work to try to ascertain landownership issues… even though the majority are still without deeds, that number has been falling as we have been working to resolve that issue.”