Tobago West MP Shamfa Cudjoe has defended her representation as well as that of Tobago East MP Ayanna Webster-Roy, after criticism from THA Chief Secretary Farley Augustine.
At Emancipation Day celebrations, Augustine said the Prime Minister and the Tobago MPs should be pushing for longer opening hours at the ANR Robinson International Airport so that Caribbean Airlines Ltd (CAL) could increase its flights to the island.
The THA, hoteliers and other stakeholders have long been clamouring for CAL to increase the number of domestic flights, particularly during peak travel periods, such as Easter, the July-August vacation and the upcoming October Carnival.
Addressing the issue on the Tobago Updates morning show on Monday, Cudjoe took umbrage at Augustine's statement and argued that the island has benefited from their influence in the PNM-led government.
Cudjoe is the Minister of Sport and Community Development and Webster-Roy is a Minister in the Office of the Prime Minister.
Cudjoe said: “It is because of our representation and our voices at the Cabinet that Tobago has seen this development that it has seen over the past seven years.”
On the issue of CAL and the airbridge, Cudjoe said it’s a matter of resources.
“Of course, we would like a flight to go back and forth every 30 minutes, but the government is already subsidising CAL to the tune of $800 million per year, and the interisland airbridge at $100 million per year.
"CAL has been in the red for as long as we know. In addition to that, CAL, like other airline companies, (is) coming out of this whole covid19 situation.”
She said currently the government continues to subsidise seats on the airbridge, as “every time you sit down in a seat, you pay your $300 return, the government is paying an additional $400 on that ticket – every single time.”
She said in the last two weeks of July, CAL had moved at least 6,000 people back and forth on the airbridge.
Cudjoe said financial resources will affect interisland transportation, noting that the country already benefits from free education and healthcare as well as subsidised electricity and fuel.
Saying there are currently seven ATRs available to TT, three to four of which are being used between the islands, CAL, she said, is not a national airline, but more of a regional airline.
“Yes, we lease some of the jets. People would say, 'Well, put on a jet.'
"We don’t own the jets, we lease the jets, and then it's not good for the jets to fly that short distance – we know that damages the jets and we have to pay extra monies and so on to the people we’re leasing the jet from.
"So yes, of course we would like to have hundreds of ATRs going back and forth, but based on our financial situation, it’s not possible at this point in time, alongside all the other expenses.”
She added: “We continue to make the investment in the domestic airbridge, utilise the two ferries and improve our airport. Make that investment so that we can attract more airlines.
"You can’t not want the airport and development and want more flights and more tourism development at the same time. It is a sacrifice that we have to make right now, and we as government, we continue to invest in Tobago’s development.”