Leader of the Opposition, Godwin Friday, has described as “unfortunate” the call by an internet-based Unity Labour Party activist that persons show their ULP membership card before they are allowed on the two international charters scheduled to land at Argyle international Airport on Feb. 14.
Head of the Tourism Authority, Glen Beache, said last week that his agency could pay as much as EC$534,000 of taxpayers’ money to secure the charters and would try to recoup the money through ticket sales.
But the activist, Kenley John, writing “My evening humor” on Facebook on Thursday called on the ULP not to issue any ULP membership cards until after Feb. 14, saying that “haters” were trying to find out about the charter flight, looking for “free ride home”.
He said that the only way they will get onto the flight is “by producing ah memba ship card”.
Clemroy “Bert” Francois, host of the NDP daily radio programme, New Times, called the post to Friday’s attention on his weekly appearance on the programme on Friday.
“It’s unfortunate that this is how it is being played out, because the project is a national project, irrespective of which government initiated it,” Friday said.
He noted that the study on which the airport was based was done by the New Democratic Party administration.
“And, the execution of the project, the way in which it has been done, has been done by the government of the ULP, but the debt is a debt for every single Vincentian. And governments, going well into the future will have to contend with that. And, it’s not a matter, therefore, to be treated as a partisan political issue. It is far too important for that.
“The consequences are far too dire for our country if it does not succeed. So people have to be more responsible in their comments about it, and they have to be more thoughtful in what they are saying, because it is not a light and trivial matter at all,” Friday said.
He noted that the project started in 2008 and was supposed to take three years to complete.
“It is six years behind schedule. And they are having what they say is going to be what? This is a full opening? A soft opening? A medium soft opening? I don’t know why there have to be so many kinds of openings. And you are talking about bringing in two planes that are chartered and paid for by taxpayers’ money, with some talk about recouping it through the sale of tickets.”
Friday said he has never seen or heard of anything anywhere remotely similar to this.
“Do you open a hotel and just open a room so that anybody can come in because it is brand new. You have a new boat that you have commissioned, do you suddenly start and say, ‘Come, everybody can ride for free’? … The way in which it is being done, it doesn’t inspire confidence.”
He, however, said that citizens have to be “hopeful because of the scope of this project that we can overcome all of these obstacles and the competencies that we have seen in the past and try and make this work for the benefit of the people of St. Vincent and the Grenadines.”
The opposition leader said the government was trumpeting the project as
“some sort of magnificent accomplishment” although it is six years behind schedule and has cost more than initially estimated.
The government initially said the airport would cost about EC$450 million, but the latest estimate is EC$729 million.
Friday further noted that next month’s event comes after a LIAT aircraft was landed at the airport on Dec. 6, 2015, three days before general election.
“And a year later, you are having a similar exercise, where you have a chartered flight being brought in, without any commitment as to what happens the week after, the month after and the month after that. That is what is going to test whether the airport is complete and operational, not just that you have a charter flight that the government is paying to bring here.”
Friday said that the challenge for the government is that having presented the project as their signature project, it has not presented a plan of how the airport is actually going to improve people’s lives.
“It is appealing to pure emotion. This was a project that was done in red and they are going to deliver it in red, and everybody else will realise that what eventually happens is that the country is deeply in red. And red meaning that we are broke.”
Watch below our video of the terminal building of AIA on Dec. 30, 2016.