Posted on

Airport debate in context


Fri, Jan 16, 2015

Editor: The construction of the Argyle international airport (AIA) remains a trending topic across the length and breadth of St Vincent and the Grenadines and in the diaspora, as another year passed without the airport from a layman’s perspective being ‘substantially completed.’ Rightly, this has caused a new wave of critical comments, especially on social media, as the debate rages on the benefits of the airport to the transformation of the local economy, albeit juxtaposed on the current political landscape due to the looming general elections.{{more}}

In the sphere of public policy, these ‘contentious’ discussions, mischievous or constructive, have been rare on other nationally important topics and it is this writer’s hope that this translates into a broader subset of the public participating in national debates. The airport dream has touched each of us, across generations and political suasions. Sometimes, even before we consider the economic and social feasibility of a project, we place our questions in a simpler, more socio-developmental context. More so, we consider our very own local and Caribbean societal paradigms.

Humans rarely act rationally. We do not consult textbooks and academic models to make decisions. Our primary impulses are based on our senses and the perspectives from our very own conditioning and socialization. As such, it should not surprise us that for many, the airport at Argyle is seen as a patriotic enterprise. It is in this case, simply a feat of aesthetic beauty, a welcoming sense of comfort for nationals and non-nationals and a regional comparative emotional contest of sorts. Strip away the rhetoric, at the core of the Argyle airport is the truth that the ET Joshua airport is a nationalistic eyesore. It is too pale, sombre and warehouse-like. It is not inviting nor reassuring to a returning national or visitor. And in comparison with our immediate neighbours, it’s simply “low class.”

Just like the housewife engages in ‘economic suicide’ over the Christmas holidays to make her home warm and friendly, so too, Vincentians by and large, possibly including the leadership of the country, have approached the construction of the AIA. The airport represents an opportunity for Vincentians to have a visible ‘monument’ of our recent improved status in the region. In other words, St Vincent and the Grenadines yearns for its Grantley Adams Airport moment. Is it ego – a bundle of pride, self-esteem, self-value, individuality? Is it wrong to feel this way?

Critics of the airport often engage in the debate that strips away the very basic human elements in decision making. We come into the world with nothing, we leave with nothing, but it’s not scriptural that we should build nothing. Just as we will not severely sanction the housewife for her hire-purchase decisions during Christmas, or vociferously condemn ‘Joe Public’ for living above his means, maybe the time is ripe that governments are not handcuffed from making decisions that do not fit a neat cost-benefit analysis void of the purest pursuit of social mobility.

The notion of a “Vincentian” is arguably undefined. What do we rally around? What idea about our heritage, community, identity that has transcended partisan politics? The only time our leaders hold hands is at peace rallies. From National Heroes Day to Carnival, to Emancipation, to Independence, to Nine Mornings, we are divided. At funerals and weddings, we cuss and fight. Trevorn Martin and the Fergusson shootings have fascinated us more than any local abuse of power. Tessane Chin captivated our attention, which Kevin Lyttle will never be able to do, although the latter is more revered internationally, especially in Africa.

Too bad that we missed the opportunity to use the Argyle international airport to find that one common physical denominator when the equipment was paraded with red flags and banners through the streets of Kingstown. In some sense, if we can only be human again, pure again. If we can realize that everything is not economic or political or social, then maybe we will find our way. We cannot be jaundiced by sheer-one dimensional viewpoints and become hardened because we disagree on something.

In the end, what we have is an ongoing construction of an airport, which, from a management perspective, has failed miserably. It may take another two years before we can use the word “substantial,” as an airport is more than buildings. What we also have is a project that may not balance the books, but it remains critical to the socio-economic development of our country, now more than ever. A sociological endorsement of the project does not signify that common sense and accountability go out the window, but it means we must argue more intelligently.

A for apple, B for bat, C….

Adaiah Providence Culzac