32 Entities Show Interest In HIA So Far.
GENERAL Manager of the Saint Lucia Air and Sea Ports Authority (SLASPA), Keigan Cox, says the tender process to determine a successful bidder to manage Hewanorra International Airport is proceeding smoothly.
Cox told The VOICE on Thursday that the process being led and advised on by the World Bank arm, the International Finance Corporation (IFC), is an “extensive” one. Nevertheless, he said SLASPA was thankful to work alongside the IFC, which has extensive experience and knowledge about public-private partnerships (PPPs) internationally.
“It has been a learning process,” Cox said. “We believe we’ve gained a lot in terms of institutional strengthening by virtue of that exposure and opportunity. Equally critical is the fact that the process underpinning the public-private partnership has been extensive. Perhaps, that’s why it has taken a few years.”
Cox said SLASPA has followed extensive due diligence in developing the models and exploring which model is most optimal SLASPA, he added, has also developed an extensive and detailed 30-year master plan for the development of the airport as an asset for the benefit of Saint Lucians. The master plan goes beyond just a new terminal, he said, and takes into consideration feedback from various stakeholders, including the opposition United Workers Party (UWP).
“This is a national project of national significance, so no way should we be tainted by partisan politics. That’s our view at SLASPA and we’ll continue to embrace that view as we move ahead. We will continue to be transparent to all parties — we have demonstrated and will continue to demonstrate that,” the SLASPA General Manager explained.
The entire public-private partnership will be pursued via tender process which began some weeks ago to select the operator/developer. Cox said SLASPA has been conducting the process “in a very transparent way, embracing sound governance and best practices under the leadership of the IFC.”
“As such, we’ve proceeded with the RFQ (request for qualification) document by publicizing it in the local newspapers and via our website. We’ve also gone into international publications. I can confirm that we’ve gotten 32 entities requesting the RFQ document from us and expressing interest,” Cox said.
The deadline for submission is September 7 this year and Cox said that based on the interest noted thus far, SLASPA remains confident that it will receive some very impressive bids from some international entities. Most of the bids received thus far, he said, are from international entities. However, there are about for or five Saint Lucian entities that have requested a copy of the package and expressing their interest.
Said Cox: “I’m very excited based on the entities that have expressed interest. (They are) very established and recognized entities with solid financial balance sheets and extensive experience in airport development and management internationally. So that, of course, has us very excited. The process will be transparent, so we will have a public opening of the tenders received on September 7.”
Cox told The VOICE that the HIA Development Act passed in Parliament earlier this year recognizes and prescribes the need for a multi-stakeholder committee that will include participation from the private sector, including an external auditing firm and SLASPA representatives.
He said that while concerns about IFC’s involvement in the process might be raised, there is no evidence to suggest that the IFC would not be professional in the entire process. The IFC, he said, is subjected to international scrutiny and international best practices as it relates to procurement.
“There’s evidence to suggest and support that the IFC will be above board in guiding and facilitating SLASPA through this entire procurement process. We are confident that it can withstand international scrutiny,” Cox said.
Last month, a team of SLASPA officials and members of the local media met with management and service providers at the Sangster International Airport in Montego Bay, Jamaica. The aim of the meetings was to find out from officials there what worked and what didn’t when MBJ Airports Limited won a bid to operate Sangster International Airport as part of a public-private partnership agreement with the government of Jamaica. Cox said the exercise proved useful as part of SLASPA’s due diligence.
“The Sangster method is similar to where we would want to go. But I cannot preempt the outcome of the tender process. Neither can I preempt the conclusion of the negotiations (with) the successful bidder. However, the fundamentals and likewise the concept are similar to that of Sangster,” Cox said.
Cox, who became SLASPA’s General Manager in June last year, said every aspect of the master plan for the HIA development deal will be performance-driven, transparent, and will form part of the concession agreement which will be monitored. He added that there will be penalties for not achieving or delivering on what was promised contractually and, likewise, there are considerations for rewards for over-achieving.
As part of the deal, SLASPA will continue to play a critical role, despite relinquishing its role of being the operator, financier and developer of the island’s only international airport and taking up the role of regulator.
“We will regulate every aspect of the airport’s operations, every aspect of the development of the airport, and every aspect of the concession agreement. The government and people of Saint Lucia retain ownership of the asset (the airport),” Cox said.
Cox said that as per the HIA Development Act, government has the right to charge the developer corporate taxes. SLASPA will, however, get a percentage of gross revenue. He added that whatever design that is selected must embrace and reflect Saint Lucia’s unique culture, heritage and people in a positive way.