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The opposition United Progressive Party (UPP) and the Barbuda People’s Movement (BPM) have broken out their ‘we told you so’ personas following the news from Barbuda Member of Parliament (MP) Arthur Nibbs that the grand airport plans have been put on hold.
According to Nibbs, construction on the proposed new airport in Barbuda has been placed on hold pending approval from the relevant authorities.  More specifically, he stated, “With respect to the airport we are awaiting the approval from the Directorate of Civil Aviation because you can’t just go in there and start to build an airport.”
He also said, “All the specifications, everything has to be approved by Civil Aviation before we can proceed so we cannot proceed any further with the construction of the airport. The funds are in place. We have actually started the site clearing but we are going to hold off on that until we get the plans approved.”
To the UPP and the BPM that news is proof positive that the groundbreaking ceremony, in the lead up to the Barbuda Council elections, was nothing more than a “ground-faking” – a term that was used liberally during the campaign.
Let’s dip back into time and see how this all played out and why this will have a ripple effect in the next set of elections in Barbuda, both at the Council level and nationally.  We promise not to go too far into history and stick to a more recent summary.
In February, Minister Nibbs pointed to logistical concerns as the reason
that the highly-anticipated ground-breaking for the new airport on Barbuda had to be postponed indefinitely. “The logistical arrangements were not completed” he said, and therefore the ground-breaking could not happen on February 24 as planned.
Then remarkably, days before the Barbuda Council elections in March, all the logistical arrangements were completed and Nibbs, along with Tourism & Investment Minister Asot Michael, Culture Minister EP Chet Greene, Prime Minister Gaston Browne and then Barbuda Council Chairman David Shaw held a ground-breaking for the airport in Barbuda.
The optics of the high-powered contingent quelled many people’s skepticism about the project but questions and speculation were rife.  We even wondered at the coincidence of the timing and asked “what logistical arrangements were not ready a month ago?”  Naturally, we received no answer.
The UPP and the BPM seized the topic and launched an assault on what they referred to as “ground-faking” and actually raised many of the same issues that MP Nibbs referred to as the cause for the delays.  At this point in time, this looks like a political misstep by the Antigua & Barbuda Labour Party and a ‘gimme’ for the UPP and BPM.  Digging out of this one is going to have to employ skillful political spin-doctoring and will make for interesting viewing.  We know we will be there to observe with popcorn in hand.
The other interesting twist to this whole matter is the early talk of the waiver of tender. Information Minister Melford Nicholas revealed that the airport may not go through the tendering process.  He said, “The process in Barbuda is still not yet complete; no contract has yet been awarded in respect of Barbuda. I think one of the potential developers that came forward indicated that they could not only
construct the facility but they could bring financing which made them rather attractive because it brought the possibility of an immediate start to the facilities to the table.”
We find this turn of events odd and troubling.  The transparency of a tender should not be shunned because there is a back-door deal on financing. Financing cannot trump all the other serious safety and other considerations related to an airport.  Plus, if the entity is on par or better for the construction and brings financing, then that will shine through in the tendering process.  And please do not compare this to the airport in Antigua because we have serious issues with a lot that went on there.
We are already hearing grumblings from the conspiracy theorists that claim that a company with ‘connections’ is the leading contender to secure the contract and we are waiting to see if the theory is proven true. Meanwhile, we hear that certain people in the civil aviation sector are fuming mad at how this is all progressing and are seriously concerned about who will build the airport and what exactly will be built in Barbuda.
Added to this strange development is the fact that the government previously boasted that much of the funding for the airport was contributed by the Paradise Found Group and Peace Love & Happiness Barbuda; with both investor groups ponying up, at the request of the government, US $5 million for the construction of the new airport.  Minister Nibbs even said that “the funds are in place” so why are we talking about a waiver solely on the basis of a contractor offering financing?
What we are left with is a ground-breaking/ground-faking ceremony for a multi-million-dollar airport project that seems little past the conceptual stage that is already being considered for a waiver of tender.  Hmmm!!!

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