Friday, February 10, 2012

Grenada/Taiwan dispute threatens island airport

ST.GEORGE’S, Grenada – The ongoing dispute between Taiwan and Grenada over monies reportedly owed by the Caribbean nation to its former Asian benefactor could cause the shutdown of the Maurice Bishop International Airport.

These fears have surfaced as airlines serving the island from international markets have recently begun paying money into an escrow account, as a result of an order from an American court as an act of restitution in the dispute between Grenada and Taiwan.

Chairman of the airports authority, Rodney George, reportedly confirmed that Virgin Atlantic, American Airlines, British Airways, and Delta have been forced to comply with the court order to pay money owed to the Grenada Government into an account setup by Taipei.

“It is quite unfortunate but it is happening. We have already been notified by Virgin airlines. It is British airways. It is American airlines. And it is Delta” said George in a local radio interview.

“All the major airlines that are flying to Grenada with the exception of Caribbean airlines. Virgin Atlantic took effect three weeks ago. British Airways and Delta two weeks ago”.

Taiwan had commenced legal action to recover EC $70 million dollars (US$25million) in default loans from the state owned export import bank shortly after Grenada broke diplomatic relations in 2005.

George says the airport authority has already lost about half a million US dollars in landing fees, and taxes normally collected by the airlines on behalf of the Government.

He says the authority has already written to finance Minister Nazim Burke outlining the plight and requesting assistance from the state.

“I have to add that this is of real concern to us and the airport and we are flagging it heavily with the authorities because it could cause our operations at the airport to grind to a halt “the airport authority chief commented.

“It’s a very serious matter and one that has been keeping me awake at nights”. The prospect of operations at the airport grinding to a halt is something that will have dire consequences on the entire country. The next three to four weeks are critical”.

The fees are being withheld from the Government after Taiwan filed an injunction with cruise ships and airlines servicing Grenada, demanding that money due to the island should be paid to it.

Information Minister Glen Noel confirmed late last year that the fees cruise ships normally pay the state are now being deposited in a special account because of the loan dispute.

“The revenues that we normally collect that would just not be available to us that would just flow into this escrow account and it means the revenues that we normally collected that will be used to service our debt and our normal operating cost like salaries .. .that money would just not be available to us” George explained.

“We really do not have much avenues to do anything because our position with our bankers. we are up to our neck as far as our over draft limit is concerned so I supposed the only option now is to see if we can get central government to make up the shortfall until this is cleared”.

The Government had said that it hired a US law firm which has begun legal proceedings in an effort to have the injunction overturned.

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