Questions and answers about the Argyle airport puzzle
By C. ben-David
This is the third of five essays where I try to put the disparate pieces of our artfully conceived and cunningly executed Argyle International Airport (AIA) puzzle on St. Vincent Island (SVI) together by examining their true purpose.
As I stated in my last piece, in mathematics, the sciences, and logic, the simplest explanation that accounts for all the facts is always the best. That’s why my axiom, “St. Vincent Island has little developmental potential” and its corollary, “The construction of an international airport would not boast our mainland tourism potential (because we have so little tourism potential on the big island),” better account for the following otherwise inexplicable facts and issues than does the prevailing neo-liberal assumption that “St. Vincent has lots of potential” and the ipse dixit corollary supplied by the Honourable Prime Minister, Dr. Ralph E. Gonsalves, that, “Our country’s tourism potential would not be fully realised unless we build an international airport”:
Question: If our tourism potential is as high as the Prime Minister and others claim, why has this never been reflected in our cruise ship and mainland yacht numbers — probably the best measures of the holiday attractiveness of a tropical destination, regardless of whether it also has an international airport — which, taken together, are the lowest of any country in the Caribbean except for volcano ravaged Montserrat, as I have shown in several of the essays listed below?
Answer: These consistently rock-bottom numbers, both of which are independent of the presence of hotels, resorts, or an international airport, simply reflect the low tourist potential of SVI based on the absence of the tropical-island holiday sine qua non: captivating white sand beaches.
Q: Why was an airport first conceived in 2001 — “Since our election to office on March 28, 2001, the ULP administration has [been] … Pushing vigorously for the building of an international airport at Argyle to such an extent that this project has started already, though the actual construction is yet to commence,” the Prime Minister’s words in his “famous” 2005 address — operating mainly as a regional airport over 16 years later?
A: Though constrained by the helter-skelter raising of construction monies, based on the legitimate refusal of our traditional North American and European patrons to fund the project, there was no urgency to complete the airport when its snail’s pace erection ensured one Unity Labour Party (ULP) election victory after another. Conversely, had the airport been completed in the three-year period estimated by the government’s own hired consultants, its low passenger numbers would have already seen the decisive defeat of the ULP in some previous election.
Q: Why was there no comprehensive economic feasibility study justifying the construction of the airport?
A: A detailed financial viability analysis would have concluded that the airport would never fulfill its intended purpose of enhancing our long-term economic development by stimulating a surge in international holiday visitors, the building of new hotels and resorts, increased agricultural and allied production, other business expansion, substantial job creation, and so on.
More specifically, no external government-commissioned consultant has ever advised building an international airport on the mainland grounded on a detailed cost-benefit analysis. The only economically viable cost option ever recommended was a limited renovation of the existing E. T. Joshua Airport, as detailed in the 1998 Marshall, Macklin and Monaghan, Phase 1, Final Report – Airport Development St. Vincent, commissioned by the James F. Mitchell’s New Democratic Party government.
Q: Why did our traditional “coalition of the willing” – Great Britain, the United States, Canada, the Caribbean Development Bank, and the World Bank – refuse to help finance the airport (“Europe said no assistance, the prime minister of Canada, I [Ralph Gonsalves] wrote him, no assistance, the Americans I spoke to them no assistance”?
A: Our government could not satisfy the rigorous requirements and high standards of the donors, especially the need to justify grants based on the positive recommendations of a comprehensive economic feasibility study.
Q: Why does our “political and economic elite express unquestioned support for these developmental policies” — in this case building AIA – “in the face of the mounting evidence that they do not work?”
A: The Speaker of the House of Assembly, Jomo Thomas, wrote and explained these words over 10 years ago when he said, “… the elite benefit from this system of development. As leaders of the state machinery and commerce, they can make deals with foreign and local ruling class to their exclusive benefit. Workers may get low end jobs, but the country rarely benefits” (The Vincentian newspaper, February 12, 2007). What he failed to mention is that the “leaders of the state machinery” also benefit politically by enthralling a gullible electorate with the implementation of these developmental policies even if “the country rarely benefits.”
Q: Why did the Unity Labour Party’s (ULP) chief Internet propagandist, “Vinciman,” brazenly and proudly proclaim that, “… in the case with the  election Argyle “fiasco” [of being unable to complete the airport], can you beat that exemplary election campaign strategy? It surely served its twofold purpose. On the one hand, it proved to all naysayers that small planes CAN land at Argyle International…? Two, it was the surety to return the ULP to office, and it worked. That’s politics, Vincy style!”?
A: The purposely-delayed completion of AIA has been a carefully constructed and eminently successful “Vincy-style” political ploy to return the ULP to office time and again.
Q: Why was the same Vinciman compelled to write on January 5, 2016, that, “This AI Airport is for the people of St Vincent and the Grenadines primarily, not any ‘tourist airport’ as you and the others always like to imply or suggest, and we will see to it that you or no one will deny us this reality. It is long overdue and a welcoming sight in the eyes of all well meaning and patriotic Vincentians”?
A: Since no First World international airlines or established and reputable global resort developers had shown any interest in servicing our mainland when these words were written, it was necessary to present a fake alternative history for AIA’s construction, a process that will accelerate as time goes on to obscure the paucity of new hotel development and a negligible growth in international tourist arrivals.
Q: Why has the promotion of our tourist resources been so limited, our few attractions neglected or rarely upgraded, additional attractions not developed, and the necessary infrastructure – urban renewal, road signage, Internet access, feeder road rehabilitation, town and country washroom facilities, etc. – still not in full gear some six months after the airport’s opening?
A: There is no real expectation, at the highest levels of government, that AIA will precipitate the increase in tourist visitors that would make such expenditures worthwhile.
Q: Why were the terminal building and control tower built so prematurely, the fire tenders acquired years before they were needed, and unnecessary air bridges meant for northern climates purchased?
A: This was not a reflection of incompetence or mismanagement, as many have claimed. Instead, they were carefully crafted acquisitions meant to enthrall the masses with the wonders their mighty Comrade had wrought.
These are only some of the many questions about AIA that need to be addressed from anti-argumentum ad populum/verecundiam perspectives. The rest are discussed in the next essay.
This is the 61st in a series of essays on the AIA folly. My other AIA essays are listed below:
- Get ready for a November election!
- Lessons for Argyle Airport from Canada’s Montreal–Mirabel Int’l
- Lessons for Argyle Int’l Airport from the cruise industry
- Lessons from Target Canada for Argyle Int’l Airport
- Lessons from Trinidad & Tobago for Argyle Int’l Airport
- The Dark Side of Tourism: Lessons for Argyle Airport
- Why Argyle Won’t Fly: Lessons from Dominica
- Ken Boyea and the Phantom City at Arnos Vale
- Airport Envy Vincy-Style
- Fully realising our country’s tourism potential
- Airport without a cause
- The unnatural place for an international airport
- The Potemkin Folly at Argyle
- False patriotism and deceitful promises at Argyle
- Airport politics and betrayal Vincy-Style
- Phony airport completion election promises, Vincy-style
- Is Argyle Airport really a ‘huge game-changer for us?’
- Has the cat got your tongue, Prime Minister?
- More proof that Argyle won’t fly
- Our very own Vincentian cargo cult at Argyle
- The missing Argyle Airport feasibility studies
- The world’s four most amazing abandoned airports
- Farming, fishing, and foolish talk about Argyle International Airport
- Argyle Airport amateur hour
- Vincent’s place in the world of travel
- Investing in St. Vincent’s Tourism Industry
- The Argyle Airport prophecy: what the numbers say
- Why Qatar? Why St. Vincent and the Grenadines?
- Did the IMF drink the Comrade’s Kool-Aid?
- Foolish words about Argyle International Airport
- ‘If I come, you will build it’: Lessons from the Maldives for Argyle Airport
- Urban lessons for Argyle International Airport
- Who really lands at Arnos Vale?
- No ticky, No washy — Argyle-Style
- We have met the Vincentian tourism enemy and he is us
- Hotel Saint Vincent
- Why St. Vincent Island has so few tourists
- Why Bequia is a gem of the Antilles
- Why seeing is believing in the Caribbean tourism industry
- St. Vincent’s cruise ship numbers are much lower than we think
- Lessons from Barbados for Argyle Airport
- Cuba’s tourism rollercoaster: Lessons for Argyle Airport
- What the world teaches Black Sands Resort and Villas
- Not all Argyle Airport critics are ‘internet crazies’
- The media’s take on the opening of Argyle Airport
- Why Roraima Airways? Lessons for Argyle Airport
- Our Argyle International Airport ‘veritable miracle’
- From ‘poppy show’ to campaign rally: The Argyle Airport opening
- St. Vincent’s 2016 tourism numbers are nothing to brag about
- Going forward or marching in place? Lessons for Argyle airport
- The Visible Hand of Adam Smith at Argyle International Airport
- St. Vincent Island doesn’t need any more hotel rooms
- Lessons from St Lucia and Grenada for AIA
- Is Air Canada also a ‘huge game-changer’ for AIA?
- St. Vincent’s mainland tourist attractions
- How St. Vincent’s tourist attractions stack up lessons for AIA
- Lessons from Guyana for AIA
- The world’s best tourist islands: Lessons for AIA
- Explaining Argyle airport on St. Vincent Island
- Explaining Argyle airport: A clash of axioms
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