ST.GEORGE’S, Grenada: Taiwan and Grenada continue to dispute over funds reportedly owed by the Caribbean nation to its former Asian benefactor. The disagreement threatens to shut down the Maurice Bishop International Airport.
Chairman of the airports authority, Rodney George, reportedly confirmed that Virgin Atlantic, American Airlines, British Airways and Delta Airlines have been forced to comply with an American court order to pay money owed to the Grenada government into an account setup by Taipei, as an act of restitution in the dispute between Grenada and Taiwan.
“It is quite unfortunate, but it is happening,” George said in a local radio interview. “We have already been notified by Virgin Airlines. It is British Airways. It is American Airlines. And it is Delta… All the major airlines that are flying to Grenada, with the exception of Caribbean Airlines.”
Taiwan commenced legal action to recover EC$70 million (US$25 million) 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 US$500,000 in taxes and landing fees that the airlines would normally collect on behalf of the government.
He says the authority has already sought assistance from the state, writing to finance minister, Nazim Burke, with details of the problem.
“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,” said George. “It’s a very serious matter and one that has been keeping me awake at night. 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 Taiwan. Information minister, Glen Noel, confirmed late last year that the fees cruise ships normally pay the state were being deposited into a special account because of the loan dispute.
“The revenues that we normally collect, that would be used to service our debt and our normal operating costs like salaries…that money would just not be available to us,” said George. “We really do not have much avenues to do anything because (of) our position with our bankers. We are up to our neck as far as our overdraft limit is concerned, so I suppose the only option now is to see if we can get central government to make up the shortfall until this is cleared.”
The government has reportedly hired a U.S. law firm which has begun legal proceedings in an effort to have the injunction overturned.