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2015: Year of the international airport

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The people of St Vincent and the Grenadines entered the past year under a cloud of gloom, following the devastating floods of Christmas Eve night 2013. The destruction that ensued was not only a major setback in itself, but came after a succession of natural disasters, which by themselves were enough to bring all but the most resilient to their knees.{{more}}

Yet, our darkest hour became our finest hour, as the response to the disaster was met with an outpouring of solidarity on behalf of our people, complemented by the positive response and generosity of the regional and international community for which we must be ever grateful. Facilitating all this was the calibre of leadership exhibited, which, in spite of resource limitations, quite frankly went beyond expectations.

It was therefore quite encouraging that this year, as we began celebrating what Lennox Bowman dubbed in his popular song as “Two Christmas in One”, we found time to bond together as a nation and hold a memorial service in memory of our trials of December 2013.

We are now entering a new year, 2015, the year which is at last supposed to witness the realization of a long-held Vincentian dream – the completion of the international airport at Argyle. We have had extensive debates on this project, its feasibility, practicality, financing and implementation. But there is no gainsaying the importance of this massive project, by far the most ambitious ever undertaken by any government in our history.

Few Vincentians can honestly deny the critical need for this vital infrastructural project and the potential it possesses for stimulating socio-economic development. In addition, it provides a means of at least easing many of the travelling inconveniences that our people have had to put up with over the years. Vincentians, home-based and in the diaspora, have had to spend countless hours in transit lounges because of no direct access to international flights.

In spite of this, the obsession with partisan politics has regrettably forced some to try and deny reality, to confuse criticism of approaches to implementation with a position dangerously bordering on opposition to the airport itself. It is a real sad state of affairs for which history is bound to deal harshly with those of such negative outlook.

Undoubtedly, there have been errors in the handling of this enormous undertaking, but in my view, the benefits outweigh the disadvantages and, rather than continue to predict gloom and doom, we would be of greater service to our country if we would expend the energy in generating ideas as to how best we can utilize the new airport as a catalyst for national development.

From the outset, I have always been of the opinion, (and expressed this in several columns), that the Government could have done much more to get our citizens more involved, to participate more meaningfully in the construction of the airport, particularly in its financing. The Opposition, too, made major blunders in refusing to endorse a project which is of strategic importance to the country and its people. As a result, the airport became almost a political football, with even the Prime Minister time and again slipping into an identification of what is a national project with the electoral fortunes of his party.

Nevertheless, the airport is a reality, and not even a change of government can change that. We must therefore address ourselves to this reality, recognize that it has been a remarkable feat to be on the verge of completion in a very difficult economic situation, and give credit where it is due — to PM Gonsalves especially, for his vision, fortitude, determination and creativity.

This by no means excuses weaknesses or errors. In particular, there are continuing concerns that we may be getting even too ambitious, stretching beyond functionality. Thus, do we have to purchase costly airbridges at this time? Not even Adams International in Barbados, with much more international traffic, has done so as yet. Shouldn’t we concentrate on getting the basics right? What about management of the international airport? Not much is being heard in this regard.

We have come a long way and must be justly proud and appreciative of that. Let’s try to ensure that we keep our feet on the ground, do not confuse a national project with partisan leanings and make this year a truly Vincentian YEAR OF THE INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT.

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