Too many unanswered questions.
This was the assessment of Minority Councillor Dr Faith BYisrael on Monday’s public consultation on the construction of the new terminal uilding for the ANR Robinson International Airport in Crown Point.
BYisrael, speaking at Tuesday’s Minority Council’s media conferenceat James Park in Scarborough, said construction of the terminal building was ‘a rushed process’ where it appears that even members of the Executive Council of the Tobago House of Assembly (THA) did not have information.
“It was very disheartening when the Chief Administrator (Raye Sandy), who is the Chief Accountant on behalf of the people of Tobago, could state that he did not have all of the information… that was very disturbing. It means that he is not a part of the decision making … he did not even know which lands were going to be acquired.
“We need to be very concerned about that because it means that the people who are supposed to be at the head, at the forefront, advocating on behalf of the people of Tobago, are not at this negotiating table,” she said.
In his mid-term review of the economy last Thursday in Parliament, Finance Minister Colm Imbert said that to meet the “demands of a tourism-driven economy, the ANR Robinson International Airport is being modernised at a cost of $500 million, excluding land acquisition.
“A public-private-partnership, utilising a Build-Own-Lease-Transfer (BOLT) mechanism, would establish in 2020 the new terminal and associated works. At present, the Development Bank of Latin America (CAF) is supporting the project with technical advisory services,” he told MPs.
BYisreal, noting that while there was no dispute that development was needed, that the airport was woefully inadequate and needed to be improved to deal with tourist arrivals and for the island to be in a developed state, she was concerned about the process.
“It was rather distressing to understand yesterday (Monday), in May, that construction will start in December 2018, and to facilitate that construction, compulsory land acquisition must take place between now and then,” she said.
“We have to understand the fact that when we are talking about compulsory land acquisition, we are going to be moving people out of their hard-earned spaces, out of their property, out of something that is important to them and this process is one that can be economically challenging, but it can also be emotionally challenging,” she added.
BYisrael also expressed scepticism about the timelines given at Monday’s consultation.
“There is no way under the sun that the process of acquiring lands, the process of compensating people for their property, can be complete by December to start construction,” she said.
“If we are talking about starting construction in six months, then approvals and so forth should have already been granted, therefore there should be no problems in having a complete layout of what this new facility will look like. That would give justification for why over 100 property owners would need to be moved out of their property.
“We also have no idea what would be the compensation process for these individuals who would be moved, and by compensation process I mean, would they only be given monies, would they be relocated and given additional monies, what is going to happen?
“Are there parcels of land or homes that have already been identified so that these individuals can be relocated? This is Tobago and we are talking about a six months window where we are asking people to completely uproot their lives, and they have no information,” she said.
BYisreal said though $500 million has so far been allocated for the construction of the terminal, there is no information on how much money has been allocated for the compensation process.
“These individuals who are currently on their property, they need to know that their monies are secured, that their monies have been set aside somewhere and that their monies will come to them.
Reminding that were still persons whose lands were acquired for the construction of the first airport and are yet to be compensated, decades later, she contended:
“Now given that that has been the track record of the THA, of the central government of Trinidad and Tobago, we would understand why people are not comforted by simply saying it would happen. We need greater assurances of where that money is coming from and how would be allocated.”
BYisrael said she expected that at Monday’s consultation, general plans for the airport project would have been discussed with members of the public.
“We understand that there are going to be other consultations over the next couple days with specific classes of property owners, but I think we came to the consultation hoping to get a general overview of what the process would be like. We were hoping to see what the new airport would look like, because if you are telling me you need the land to have this new airport built then we should have an idea of what this new airport looks like,” she said.
BYisrael said there were other areas in Tobago that could have been looked at for the airport project.
“We have to also asked ourselves why is it that this portion of land is the only portion of land being looked at. Tobago is 116 square miles, most of it is unoccupied, I suggest that if we really need to build a new airport, there is a possibility of going to the east and north-eastern end of the island where we have a lot of unoccupied land and lands that would be viable, lands that would be suitable for a new airport if we were really interested in the holistic development of the island,” she said. She also called capacity development for Tobagonians through the project, suggesting that it be written into the contract that local contractors get the opportunity to learn from foreign contractors so that would be able to work on future projects.
There must also be an opportunity for Tobago contractors to get at least 40 per cent of the work that would be done at the airport site, she added.