… blasts Govt for not knowing of increase beforehand
Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo said had the coalition Government gone along with the PPP/C’s initial designs for the US$150 million Cheddi Jagan International Airport (CJIA) Expansion Project, then there would be no need for the recently-announced increase in airport fees.
The increase, he noted, could have an impact on the local tourism industry as well as traffic at the country’s main port of entry.
Last week, the CJIA announced the increase in its Government-mandated airport security fees and the introduction of an airport passenger’s service charge. According to Caribbean Airlines, one of the international companies operating out of CJIA, this new development would see the fees/charges for a round trip raised to US$35, the equivalent of G$7315. Departing passengers will be required to pay US$17 while arriving passengers will pay US$15 payable in Guyana Dollars at the prevailing foreign exchange rate.
The CJIA had reportedly advised all airlines that these increases are to support improvements at the airport.
However, Jagdeo said, during his weekly press conference on Thursday, PPP’s original plans were intended to use the CJIA as a mini-hub to access other major regions across the world, which would result in increased traffic at the airport.
“You can often do what you want by increasing traffic; that is why the size of the airport matters. By increasing traffic, you don’t need to adjust fees because you operate now on volume… (Secondly) we would have had more freight, because with the larger aircraft coming in, it would’ve been a big boost to the non-traditional industries –- perishables and stuff. So the cost of freight to North America and Europe would’ve gone down. (The original design) was based on more airlines coming, more airlines and more passengers coming,” he asserted.
This, the Opposition Leader added, would offset the cost of supporting the newly-expanded airport, which was done using a US$138 million loan from the China EXIM (Export/Import) Bank.
“(The original design) was mainly on volume growth than a vertical increase of the fees, especially by that magnitude. That’s a huge fee… First of all, we have to get what we paid for at the airport and we’re not getting the type of airport we paid for… I believe that volume growth could’ve offset any repayment of the loan. But if they had to do a minimal increase, they should have at least had the consultations with (stakeholders) and the Government should have known about it,” he contended.
After taking office in 2015, the coalition Government redesigned the Airport Expansion Project reducing the air bridges from eight to four, among other things. Public Infrastructure Minister David Patterson had explained that this was done, in part, to limit cost overruns.
Following the announcement of the increased fee and the introduction of a new service charge, there has been mounting local public and international pressure on Guyana. In fact, Minister with responsibility for tourism, Dominic Gaskin, said that this arbitrary increase would affect the industry, adding that Cabinet was unaware of the increase before it was announced.
To this end, Jagdeo blasted the coalition Administration over the way it is managing the country.
“It could impact tourism, but my point is… how do you run a government and the Minister responsible for tourism doesn’t even know and doesn’t agree with the increase in the airport fee. He is a member of the Cabinet and he said other members of the Cabinet don’t know too. This is what we have for a government,” Jagdeo stated.
Meanwhile in response to the hike, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) on Tuesday protested the refusal of the management of the CJIA to hold talks about the adverse impact of the increases on both the passengers and the airlines.
The global air transport body says CJIA’s continued refusal to cooperate with IATA on both the proper calculation and implementation of such fees and charges has now led to a situation where airlines have been forced to manually collect the additional amounts from both arriving and departing passengers.
IATA called for immediate dialogue with the CJIA management and Guyana’s Ministry of Public Infrastructure on the implementation process related to the increase in the Government-mandated Airport Security Fee and the introduction of a new Passenger Service Charge at Guyana’s main airport.