By Alexis B. Montgomery
THIS government, in typical fashion has made blunder after blunder. They seem not to be necessarily acting in the best interest of Saint Lucia but they simply want to appease their narrow audiences aka panderers, hacks, sycophants and sponsors. Even in government, the Saint Lucia Labour Party keeps opposing for opposing sake. When will they ever get out of opposition mode?
In opposition, the Saint Lucia Labour Party opposed the Airport Development Tax imposed by the UWP, describing it as an act of “deception and stealth.” Remember that? So here we had an airport development tax which is essentially a throughput tax, financed mainly by visitors who accounted for about 90 percent of airport traffic.
The litany of attacks by the SLP was extremely petty and included complaints like: “The Saint Labour Party recalls that the Bill creating the tax was never circulated to the opposition ahead of the debate on the tax.”
Then in May 2012 in the budget presentation, Prime Minister and Minister for Finance Dr. Kenny Anthony had this to say about the tax: “In opposition we had difficulty with this tax. In our view, this tax is unconscionable at this time, especially given our challenges in increasing stay–over tourism arrivals. It is a tax for an event in the future. Not one block has been put into the ground to justify the tax”.
Then after speaking these words used to disguise his real intentions, the Prime Minister went on to announce the “suspension” of the tax, interestingly not the outright “revocation” as his objections while in opposition would have obviously insinuated. PM Anthony said: “The Government therefore, will “suspend” the application of the section of the Act, authorizing the tax for the time being.”
The double standard is glaring.
This is just one scenario which signifies the tactics of convenience that this SLP administration repeatedly uses to remain popular; even when their action does not represent the best interest of the country. The Hewanorra International Airport is one project that this SLP government tampered with, bringing to a halt a major component in the development and expansion of aviation and tourism sectors in Saint Lucia.
The throughput tax is a mode of financing which is widely used around the world especially in the funding of projects such as airport development. The proceeds of the charge had accumulated in a special interest bearing locked box account. Several millions of dollars accrued as a result of this initiative which would have made the development of the airport all the more affordable. This administration must account for: what has happened to these monies and why unsatisfactory conditions still exist at Saint Lucia’s main airport under Labour’s brilliant management? Again in their typical fashion of pretending to have better plans than the United Workers Party, this SLP administration presented some weak and tenuous arguments to the public to justify halting the modernization of HIA by changing the nature of the project.
So in nicely couched words’ they’ve said: “The proposal of a Public-Private Partnership (PPP) for the redevelopment of our international airport was deemed most suitable by mutual agreement between the Saint Lucia Air and Sea Ports Authority and the International Finance Corporation (IFC).As part of its mandate, the IFC has completed a detailed technical, legal and financial analysis of the airport, a comprehensive due diligence report and a recommend transaction structure which has been approved. The IFC is currently providing assistance to SLASPA with the conducting of a transparent and competitive bidding process, which will allow for the identification of a suitably qualified private sector partner for the development and management of the Hewannora International Airport.”
While the Minister for Ports, Infrastructure and Transport is busy looking for a private investor to take over the operations of the HIA one would rightly hope that this does not turn out to be another Grynberg on the hands of Saint Lucians. At the end of the day it appears that the SLP administration feels overwhelmed by the HIA They prefer to take the easier route which is to give up control and ownership of the airport.
The policy of the current Labour administration on the Hewanorra International Airport has failed. This issue is something all voters should collectively bear in mind this election. The unacceptable state of the HIA must be brought under sustained public scrutiny.
To use a term in the aviation sector, currently visibility is poor, concerning both the Hewanorra International and George F.L.Charles airports. The air traffic controllers in the persons of Kenny D. Anthony and Company seem to have boarded a precarious flight that has not taken off since 2011. This is the year 2016. Fortunately for the voters, they have seen the light.