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Prime Minister upset by criticism of Chinese loan

Prime Minister Mitchell – addressed the ground-breaking ceremony

Prime Minister Dr. Keith Mitchell has dismissed public concerns about Grenada’s ability to repay a huge loan from the Chinese government to upgrade the country’s international airport.

Speaking at the ground breaking ceremony for the US$67-million runway upgrade and airport rehabilitation project, Dr. Mitchell said he has heard the comments about the loan becoming “a burden” and “they are not fair to the government and people of China”.

Grenadians have been openly criticising the project, particularly concerned that Grenada is risking losing the Maurice Bishop International Airport (MBIA) to China if Grenada cannot repay the money.

During Wednesday’s ceremony the Grenadian leader appeared upset that China is being criticised by the Grenadian people.

He said this is the first major loan taken from China and the doubts and criticisms are also not fair to Grenada’s children and grandchildren.

But it is the legacy of the children and grandchildren of Grenada that the public is worried about given the experience of other countries especially in Africa that have taken major loans from the Chinese.

Other countries which borrowed from China for huge infrastructure development have faced foreclosure on national assets when they could not keep up with the conditions for repayment.

The US$67-million is said to be a soft loan from Exim Bank of China and the Chinese company China Harbour has been given the contract for the two-year project.

Dr. Mitchell said Grenada negotiated the “best terms” for the airport expansion.

He added that the project is important as Grenada prepares for the advancement of its tourism product.

The Prime Minister said Grenada is not so poor that the loan cannot be repaid and touted the shrinking of the country’s debt to GDP ratio from triple figures to double figures in the last seven years that his government has ruled.

The expansion project will involve the construction of a second runway and additional aprons, resurfacing of the existing runway, an emergency centre, lighting, passenger bridges, two-way by-pass road, escalators and elevators.

Many locals have criticised the project saying that there are more urgent infrastructure needs such as a proper hospital that such a sum could and should be spent on, given that COVID-19 has had such a severe impact on travel and tourism.

PM Mitchell said he anticipates that in two years when the project is scheduled to be completed, the virus would no longer be a problem and Grenada would be in a position to take advantage of a peak in tourism.

Recently, Tourism and Civil Aviation Minister Dr. Clarice Modeste-Curwen was asked to address concerns about the country’s ability to repay such a huge loan, especially given the economic downturn brought on by COVID-19.

She explained that Grenada needs the upgrade if the country is to attract more and bigger airlines.

She said other islands have managed to build better facilities and Grenada needs to do the same.

Modeste-Curwen said with more flights the country can increase revenue and “by the Grace of God” the loan would be repaid.

During Thursday’s ceremony, the female government minister recognised the People’s Revolutionary Government (PRG) and the Government of Cuba for the building of the airport thirty-six years ago and led a few seconds of silence for their contribution to what is Grenada’s largest infrastructure project to date.

The island is currently strapped with a $200 million dollars debt burden to the U.S-based WRB Enterprises to buy back its 51% shareholding interest in the Grenada Electricity Company (GRENLEC).

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