THE AIRPORTS Authority of Trinidad and Tobago (AATT) is in the news once again and for all the wrong reasons. Exactly one year after a $5 million heist which raised serious questions about security arrangements at the Piarco International Airport comes word of an $83,000 robbery. When considered alongside the mixed messages sent by AATT’s treatment of security staff in recent weeks, the overall impression is of a state agency veering towards disarray.
Such an impression may be far from the reality on the ground, of course. But when it comes to something as important as our main airport, perception is key.
In the wake of the latest robbery, some have pointed fingers to security arrangements at Caribbean Airlines Ltd (CAL). But the AATT itself has admitted it holds overall responsibility for the security of the compound that was targeted. AATT’s investigation into this matter must be speedily concluded and measures implemented so as to prevent recurrence.
All of this is made more distressing, however, when considered against the contentious industrial relations climate that has emerged as well as the specific incident involving the suspension of an officer for discourtesy after he refused to allow two government ministers egress through a restricted doorway.
On the one hand, the authority appears to have taken a strict approach to security by firing and suspending officers who reportedly divulged sensitive matters at a media conference some months ago. On the other hand, an officer appears to have been penalised for implementing rules devised to ensure security for all concerned.
Discourtesy has been alleged but that allegation does not sit well with the far more pressing need to ensure security measures are strictly adhered to, as well as the experience of ordinary people who transit through airports around the world every day and are faced with aggressive airport officials. Indeed, while we do not condone discourtesy, those experiences remind us that such officials are not known for their cordiality.
While there is a special Security Committee set up under the Airports Authority Act to oversee airport security, it is the AATT which has the real responsibly to “develop and manage the business of the airports, including the development, maintenance or improvement of their facilities” and “to ensure the availability of efficient, secure and safe aviation services to the public at all times.”
As such, all of these recent events suggest the AATT has to do a better job when it comes to reviewing and updating its security arrangements. It must also devise and implement a clear and consistent policy when it comes to restricted areas as well as the handling of grievances from members of the public. If found to be discourteous, staff should be ordered to undergo retraining, not merely suspended in a manner that appears punitive.
The AATT should be addressing matters such as a 2012 audit which pointed to understaffing. Maybe then it would stay out of the news.