16 May 2013

Ousted Vanuatu minister against huge airport scheme

7:50 pm on 16 May 2013

Vanuatu's former finance minister, Willie Jimmy, says one of the reasons he was dumped last week was his refusal to back government plans to underwrite a huge airport development, estimated to cost 350 million US dollars.

That is nearly double the country's current annual budget and Mr Jimmy says it would have given the Singaporean company involved a management agreement allowing it to run up to five airports around Vanuatu for 50 years.

Mr Jimmy says the company wanted government backing in the form of a promissory note for 35 billion vatu, or about 350 million US dollars, to cover its investment.

"They will not be able to make that sort of income to cover their costs, at any one point in time. I am just scared that if they have just raised the funds [and] didn't finish the project, they walk away [and] the country is left with a debt of 35 billion [vatu] to pay to whoever provided the funds to the company."

Willie Jimmy, who has spent several years as Vanuatu's ambassador to Beijing, says he preferred a scheme with a Chinese company that would have cost about 150 million US dollars.