Airport plans ended, back to square one

A RARE unanimous vote by Vanuatu’s MPs to end plans for a new controversial V$350 million (US$3.66m) international airport have refocused attention on the parlous state of Bauerfield International Airport. Plans to resurface Bauerfield’s runways, which are too small for modern passenger jets, have been in limbo while debate raged over the pros and cons of the Greenfield international airport plan, its cost and location. The ink was hardly dry on the agreement to discontinue the project, which had been made easier because the contentious, new airport contract had already lapsed, when the finger pointing and accusations began between MPs and senior public servants.

The previous government of then Prime Minister Moana Carcasses had appointed a bi-partisan Parliamentary Ad Hoc Committee to examine the new airport proposal and make its recommendations to parliament, which it did late in July. And the committee’s recommendations make it crystal clear the airport proposal and concession agreement had serious ‘legal and financial flaws.’ In the preamble to the committee’s findings, it said that ‘it is distressing to note that some public servants, not all, have been particularly unfriendly and unhelpful.’ “Sometimes the intervention of our Public Servants has bordered on being obstructionist,” the report said. Prime Minister Joe Natuman quickly weighed into the issue stating that the blame for the Greenfield Airport fiasco lay with both elected Government MPs and senior civil servants.

But he condemned attacks on senior civil servants and called on both sides not to play the ‘blame game.’ “I have already stated that this is not the time to be pointing fingers. I urge everyone to learn from this and move on together,” said Prime Minister Natuman. “I wish to reiterate that at the end of the day the buck stops with decision-makers. “It is not a light matter to be prime minister, or a minister of the state.’’

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