Minority Assemblyman Farley Augustine said Tobago will benefit tremendously from the construction of the new airport terminal. The Speyside/Parlatuvier/L’Anse Fourmi representative was addressing residents of Canaan/Bon Accord and environs, who have been affected by the ANR Robinson International Airport terminal expansion project.
Affected residents have been receiving section four notices (allowing the State to enter and take possession of land) from the National Infrastructure Development Company Ltd and are expected to vacate their lands by February 2020.
Augustine was one of the main speakers on Thursday at a discussion on the socio-cultural, economic and political implications of the new airport terminal project, hosted at the Anne Mitchell Auditorium of the Scarborough Library.
Augustine said: “There is a fallacy that is being deliberately spread where once you are critical of the project, once you challenge how they have been handling it, they turn it to mean that you are against there being an airport, and that is absolute nonsense.
"Intelligent human beings are able to be critical with even the things we know that we need… so I don’t think anybody, including the residents in the area, are against there being a new airport terminal. We all are on-board with there being a new airport terminal.”
He pointed to the lack of information given to the residents as the reason for the disconnect.
“One thing must be clear, I have learnt in my very short stint in politics, if there isn’t transparency, there is corruption… there is no in-between. If they hiding something, there is corruption; if there is a lack of information, there is corruption.
He added: “That has been a common trend throughout the country and so we have every reason to be suspicious, notwithstanding the fact that we agree and we believe that there should be a new airport terminal.”
Augustine said while there are some negative impacts of the project, there are some positive effects as well.
He said: “It would provide jobs, employment… a new terminal will mean a larger staff to man the terminal, it would mean a new category of work will open up to Tobagonians, especially in the field of security. It would also mean a rise in enterprise development within the airport facility because every airport you go to in the world, you have restaurants, you have bookshops, you have a myriad of businesses there. So, there are opportunities to be gained from within the airport itself.”
Augustine said the new airport will bring Tobago up to standard and increase its access.
“The truth is, we may have one of the worst-kept airports in the region now…It could also have a positive impact in terms of tourism because airlines like to go to airports that can accommodate and that can facilitate them.
“The truth is… Tobago airport terminal, as it is, cannot facilitate much more than it is facilitating now. Having a new airport can also increase foreign direct investment; it can help our island in the invitation of investors from abroad to come and spend money here.
"Having a new airport can also improve infrastructure especially road infrastructure,” he said, noting that airports now are attractions in and of themselves, as some house bars, hotels, casinos, lounges etc.
The major negative, Augustine said, is the displacement of residents and their movement should be seamless and as easy as possible.
He encouraged the residents, “Don’t take Government promise and plant corn.”
Augustine said with general election next year, TT needs to do better in terms of continuity in projects that affect people's lives directly.
“There are folks from the first airport expansion that still waiting on money. So, when they tell you in three years you would get your money… the THA has gratuity for me for seven years and all now I can’t get my gratuity.
“In TT, once you come into office, you wipe everything clean… if you get a chance to wipe out the people that you win, you wipe them out too and move on with your life. So, there is no guarantee that you are going to get your money on time if you leave without your money. A bird in the hand is worth two in the bushes, getting your money up front is always the best arrangement."
He added, "Next year is an election year, you sign off to get everything and your money and so on… whoops, out of nowhere government change. Aunty Kams is Prime Minister again and then she decides this is not a priority for the Central Government… what will become of you?”