The deserted check-in area at AIA on Wednesday, February 15, 2017.

The views expressed herein are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the opinions or editorial position of iWitness News. Opinion pieces can be submitted to news.iwitness@gmail.com

On February 6, 2017, a week before the premature Valentine’s Day opening of Argyle International Airport (AIA) on the mainland of St. Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG), our Prime Minister, the Honourable Dr. Ralph E. Gonsalves, argued in his 2017 Budget address that:

… the Unity Labour Party [ULP] has accomplished a veritable miracle by turning a long-held dream of a hopeful people into a reality.

“The AIA is not only the largest capital project, by far, ever to have been constructed in SVG. It is also a metaphor, a symbol, an alive testament to what a determined people, properly led, and supported by a wave of principled internationalist solidarity of friends and allies, can achieve. The construction of the AIA, amidst all the topographical, financing, managerial and resources challenges, is one to be recorded with justifiable approbation in the annals not only of Vincentian history, but in the developmental story of disadvantaged nations across time.

“Now, all of us must make the AIA work to the benefit of the people of SVG …. It is our patriotic duty to make this happen.”

Several troubling, even blasphemous, assertions are embedded in these sentiments, none relating to the only important issues: did we need to build this international airport and, having built it, would it inevitably lift us from poverty to prosperity?

  1. Is AIA a “veritable miracle?” Far from it. There are over 800 international airports around the world, many in more disadvantaged countries or built under more difficult environmental conditions. If nothing else, this should tell us that these “veritable miracles” — authentic acts of our Creator — must have preoccupied the Almighty with such works since the construction of the first commercial international airport in 1919. Conversely, the Lord may have played no part in these efforts, including AIA, a facility our bible-thumping PM has always peddled as some New Age Noah’s Arc meant to deliver our people to a brighter future. A third option, one seen as self-evident in our pre-Enlightenment society, is that God is the necessary and sufficient cause of everything. Either of these second two polar opposites would make the construction of AIA undeserving of special praise, let alone transcendent adoration.
  1. If the construction of AIA were a literal act of God, as the Prime Minister claims, the Lord should be charged with extreme tardiness (six years late), and remarkable profligacy (EC$250 million over budget and a EC$400 million outstanding debt), in completing His project, presumably because He was distracted micro-managing the simultaneous construction of other international airports.

Of course, the Prime Minister would deny these interpretations just as he would deny that he also sacrilegiously compared himself to King David and his son, Solomon, in his Jan. 19, 2017 address at the ground breaking for the Black Sands Resort and Villas at Peter’s Hope, juxtaposing the series of broken AIA completion promises to the delays building the First Temple to house the Arc of the Covenant.

The unfinished landscaping at AIA, Wednesday, February 15, 2017.
  1. As a gifted student of classical argumentation, the Prime Minister knows that employing a “veritable miracle” to explain AIA is a textbook example of an unprovable appeal to the supernatural called “argument from ignorance,” an informal logical fallacy lacking the essential criterion of falsifiability.
  2. Also, how can AIA be a “veritable miracle” when it has skyrocketed our national debt to EC$1.6 billion, a sum we could never repay; forced the sale of so much precious Crown lands to feed the ravenous airport beast; garnered far less than the initially expected support, “… by a wave of principled internationalist solidarity of friends and allies”; given little hope of AIA — a facility that was deserted the day after it opened — being serviced by frequent regularly scheduled non-stop flights to and from America, Canada, and England by various international carriers; presented no evidence that foreign travelers would now come here in record numbers; and yielded lost opportunities for allocating the same monies on far worthier projects?

 If AIA were “a long-held dream,” what was its actual content and achievability? Did we dream of building an international airport just because nearly every other Caribbean nation had one? Were we truly hoping to enhance our long-term economic well-being? Were we merely trying to make our personal overseas travel more convenient? A dream may be a cherished aspiration, ambition, or ideal; it may also be an unrealistic or self-deluding fantasy, a form of “irrational exuberance” (Allan Greenspan) bound to end in a resounding crash. Or, it simultaneously may be both, as in the case of AIA.

  1. Now that the size of the airport debt and its annual operating costs (EC$20 million) are known, why didn’t the budget estimates present even a crude cost-benefit analysis predicting the total annual tourist spending needed to make the project break even, a figure that also could have shown the annual visitor numbers and non-stop international flights necessary for the project to be declared financially neutral. With the ruling regime refusing to do so, is the opposition New Democratic Party competent and diligent enough to present their own figures instead?
  2. If the airport is a “metaphor” or “symbol” of anything, it is not of a “determined people” since none of us ordinary folk had any input into its conception or execution. To be sure, we sheep were indeed “properly led” by a boastful Old Testament-style shepherd eager to make his mark “… in the annals not only of Vincentian history, but in the developmental story of disadvantaged nations across time” by reaping the rewards of five-in-a-row election victories, the only benefit AIA will ever see, an outcome that is better interpreted as “a metaphor, a symbol” of the abuse of power and dereliction of duty in a modern parliamentary democracy.
“… if you make yourself a sheep, the wolves will eat you” (Benjamin Franklin, 1773).
  1. What will be the fruits of our eagerness to be “properly lead”? Only more labour, hardship, and sacrifice as, “… all of us must make the AIA work to the benefit of the people of SVG, at home and in the diaspora. It is our patriotic duty to make this happen.” The easy part was building an airport using hundreds of millions in borrowed money and the proceeds of the sale of Crown lands; the hard part is compelling tens of thousands more tourists to come to an island with so little to offer by way of world class attractions, especially miles of pristine white sand beaches and shallow aquamarine inshore waters.
The white sand beaches and aquamarine waters tourists yearn for.
  1. Despite all the hyperbolic rhetoric, this straightforward construction project involved levelling a few low-lying coastal hills, filling some shallow valleys with the rubble, rerouting a small river, and relocating several score of willing property owners. Now the heavy lifting begins, namely, the unrealistic task of making AIA work for our benefit.
A cross-section of one of the several “mountains” levelled at Argyle.
  1. As I recently argued (see essay 45 below), invoking the notion of “patriotic duty” should remind us of John F. Kennedy’s arrogant and paternalist call, “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.” Our shepherd, Ralph Gonsalves, claims he has miraculously built us an airport, which we, his sheep, must now make a success. Any failure to do so, would make us unpatriotic, perhaps even treasonous.

If the AIA project, which the Prime Minister also claims was conceived by “divine inspiration,” fails to meet its developmental expectations, he is already implying, “don’t blame me”. Rather, any culpability would be our rejection of God’s word and our unwillingness to do “our patriotic duty”. And when the inevitable failure comes, our shepherd would surely preach that even irrationally exuberant sheep sometimes treacherously devour their own (Ezekiel 5:10), yet another good Sunday school lesson for us all.

***

This is the 47th in a series of essays on the Argyle International Airport folly.

My other AIA essays are listed below:

    1. Get ready for a November election!
    2. Lessons for Argyle Airport from Canada’s Montreal–Mirabel Int’l
    3. Lessons for Argyle Int’l Airport from the cruise industry
    4. Lessons from Target Canada for Argyle Int’l Airport
    5. Lessons from Trinidad & Tobago for Argyle Int’l Airport
    6. The Dark Side of Tourism: Lessons for Argyle Airport
    7. Why Argyle Won’t Fly: Lessons from Dominica
    8. Ken Boyea and the Phantom City at Arnos Vale
    9. Airport Envy Vincy-Style
    10. Fully realising our country’s tourism potential
    11. Airport without a cause
    12. The unnatural place for an international airport
    13. The Potemkin Folly at Argyle
    14. False patriotism and deceitful promises at Argyle
    15. Airport politics and betrayal Vincy-Style
    16. Phony airport completion election promises, Vincy-style
    17. Is Argyle Airport really a ‘huge game-changer for us?’
    18. Has the cat got your tongue, Prime Minister?
    19. More proof that Argyle won’t fly
    20. Our very own Vincentian cargo cult at Argyle
    21. The missing Argyle Airport feasibility studies
    22. The world’s four most amazing abandoned airports
    23. Farming, fishing, and foolish talk about Argyle International Airport
    24. Argyle Airport amateur hour
    25. Vincent’s place in the world of travel
    26. Investing in St. Vincent’s Tourism Industry
    27. The Argyle Airport prophecy: what the numbers say
    28. Why Qatar? Why St. Vincent and the Grenadines?
    29. Did the IMF drink the Comrade’s Kool-Aid?
    30. Foolish words about Argyle International Airport
    31. ‘If I come, you will build it’: Lessons from the Maldives for Argyle Airport
    32. Urban lessons for Argyle International Airport
    33. Who really lands at Arnos Vale?
    34. No ticky, No washy — Argyle-Style
    35. We have met the Vincentian tourism enemy and he is us
    36. Hotel Saint Vincent
    37. Why St. Vincent Island has so few tourists 
    38. Why Bequia is a gem of the Antilles
    39. Why seeing is believing in the Caribbean tourism industry
    40. St. Vincent’s cruise ship numbers are much lower than we think
    41. Lessons from Barbados for Argyle Airport
    42. Cuba’s tourism rollercoaster: Lessons for Argyle Airport
    43. What the world teaches Black Sands Resort and Villas
    44. Not all Argyle Airport critics are ‘internet crazies’
    45. The media’s take on the opening of Argyle Airport
    46. Why Roraima Airways? Lessons for Argyle Airport

 C. ben-David

The views expressed herein are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the opinions or editorial position of iWitness News. Opinion pieces can be submitted to news.iwitness@gmail.com.

One reply on “Our Argyle International Airport ‘veritable miracle’”

  1. Jeannine James says:

    It was on Monday of this week that I noticed in the PM’s most recent long-suffering soliloquy, better known as a weekly press conference, that he is fixing to blame the private sector for any adverse outturn related to “build it and they will come”.

    I, like everyone else, would never turn down the opportunity to arrive in SVG from any place without tedious stopover but at the same time, I am not going to turn a blind eye to the glaring absence of any sort of cogent declaration of the source and use of funds over more than 8 years in what is presented as the largest capital project in the history of the nation. The particular detail of audited financial statements is turning out to be one of the world’s best kept secrets. Hurling numbers and declaring accomplishments from a red-draped podium is not for the likes of me. Whosoever wants to run with that and move on are more than welcome to it.

    The poor private sector! I wonder what became of the strident Francis-led initiative to clean up Kingstown that was launched at the Methodist Church Hall in Kingstown roughly a year ago. I guess the private sector let the country down there too. Yeah right…

    I can’t help remembering the Gonsalves reaction when Jerry Scott, as then Minister of Works, came out swinging in reproach of the private sector for not diving headlong into investing in Campden Park Container Port. I did not forget either, the salient points made then about how ill-conceived a project was the Campden Park Container Port. It was indeed poorly conceived…no lie there. This current crew in SVG is rich; they’ve managed to kick the bamboozle up a notch or two in recent seasons. As always, it is the truly working poor that will continue to cheer and to either do the heavy lifting or be crushed under the weight. But the restricted core that the PM created in SVG will continue to sit in clover atop the loving masses as long as they continue to mindlessly salute him while they enjoy the slop.

    Then there are the random public appeals that pop up in media to seek funding to address commonplace health issues of citizens that some similar Caribbean nations are paying attention to at the governmental level. These events will continue to levy guilt and elicit despair among the rank and file. But, never mind, once the public coughs up the funds, the patient will “fly out” in style surounded by the unmatched beauty offered by the furniture, fixtures and colour scheme of AIA.

    Meanwhile, as the PM prepares to pass blame and shame to the private sector, he appears to not have noticed that in the 8 or more years of brilliant creativity, those charged with preparing to maximize AIA, in respect of tourism and exports, have managed to do very little if anything at all. That is not a talking point for him. The diligent PM must also be unaware that whilst he had the Tourism Authority hot and swe at and fully engaged in shopping charters, they could not bond meaningfully with the Hotel Association to even encourage participation in the February 1-2 important tourism meet-up in the Bahamas at which SVG, a country that was about to open a yawning international airport, was represented in no way, shape or form. A case of not being able to walk and chew gum or is it due to a lack of focus? It certainly cannot be a lack of funding because those charters had to be paid for in full and folks had to enabled to populate them.

    And so, the architects of the bamboozle are sitting pretty on the motherlode. Just watch them closely, if only for fun.

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