Our Readers' Opinions
January 31, 2014

The airport in context

Two topics currently discussed in the international media are of relevance to our airport project. The first is the role of government in economic development and the second the sale of state-owned assets. This article looks briefly at both.{{more}}

Very often it is argued that it is the private sector that provides the dynamism that makes economies grow. Governments, therefore, ought to be downsized and more scope given to the private sector.

There is an alternative view. It is that the courageous, risk-taking and visionary role played by the government makes the crucial difference. The government has to make things happen. Not only must it have the vision but it must be prepared to take the risk involved in turning that vision into reality. Proponents of this viewpoint to the role governments have played in the development of transport, pharmaceuticals and more recently IT and the Internet to prove their argument.

The case for the airport rests on the second view of the role of government. SVG is so small that, to prosper, it has to be linked with the rest of the world through trade, tourism, migration and remittances. A good airport facilitates it all. At the same time the country is so tiny yet mountainous that raising the funds required, some $700 million, to construct the airport would seem beyond the bounds of probability.

Previous Governments recognized the need for the airport. The critical difference between them and the present administration is: the ULP’s greater appetite for risk-taking; its ability to obtain aid from non- traditional sources particularly Cuba and Venezuela and its sheer gumption in seeking the assistance of anyone willing to help in what it calls its ‘coalition of the willing’.

The other issue mentioned at the beginning of this article is the disposal of state assets. It has been observed that, worldwide, governments own trillions of dollars of assets, in particular, land and buildings. Now that many of these same governments are heavily indebted it has been suggested that some of these assets should be sold to pay down these debts. First, it is necessary to know what assets they own. Many governments do not. Next, institutions have to be set up to deal with the assets. Of course the assets have to be advertised. In the UK, for instance, a website is being set up in January to show the billions of assets its government has available for sale.

Mainly because of the airport project SVG has been in the vanguard of the process of disposing of state owned assets. It was agreed that land will buy land. Arnos Vale airport land could be sold to buy land for the Argyle airport. Then the recently retired chief surveyor, Adolphus Ollivierre, took the whole process to another level altogether. He pointed out that throughout the state Government owned properties from which maximum benefit was not being extracted. Ollivierre compiled a list of these properties.

The Government itself was not slow off the mark. It set up the institutions to, among other things, handle these assets. These included the Airport Company (IADC), National Properties (NP) and SVG Invest. National Properties has been ahead of the UK in setting up its website to advertise government properties available for sale. NP has been at it for several years now. As is generally recommended, it keeps tabs on the value of these properties at its monthly board meetings

The next step in the saga will be the setting up of private/public partnerships to ensure that facilities are established to make full use of the airport. A lot will depend on the private sector.