Public disclosure over anomalies in the aviation sector

Part of the problem, which we continue to highlight, in bringing deficiencies in areas of public sector service delivery into the public domain and seeking to have those deficiencies corrected, has to do with the disinclination of public officials to ‘come clean’ on issues that are officially deemed to be sensitive.

We understand, of course, that in the matter of the dissemination of information many public officials are tethered by their political bosses so that that they must therefore either avoid the media altogether or else, cultivate certain Orwellian skills associated with talking a lot but essentially saying nothing.

After the succession of incidents in the local aviation sector over a relatively short period of time, two of which resulted in loss of life, the government’s attitude to transparency in matters pertaining to the management of the sector appears to have changed little. Of course, the local aviation sector is small, technical in nature and all of it is privately owned. That makes it easier to keep outsiders out. However, from what we have observed the situation is changing from what has long been a culture of exclusion, including the media, to what now appears to be a greater willingness to bring at least some issues into the open.

If that is indeed the case, we applaud the development for two reasons. The first has to do with the fact that while there are close links between the sector and the lives of people and communities, most of us know very little about the sector. The second reason is an equally obvious one. Whether it be in aviation or any other sector there are virtues to be derived from transparency.

The importance of the domestic aviation sector has to do, primarily with providing reliable air bridges between interior and coastal communities in circumstances where land and sea bridges remain considerably underdeveloped.

Increasingly these days, domestic aviation is linked to the need for quick and easy access to the country’s gold-mining communities, to say nothing of the need to respond to medical emergencies.

Our recent interview with Roraima Airways Chief Executive Officer Captain Gerry Gouveia (which appeared in last Friday’s Stabroek Business) was instructive insofar as it addressed a number of important things about safety in the sector. His evaluation of the competence of our pilots and the standards of professionalism applied in the maintenance of aircraft was reassuring. Guyana’s track record suggests that the sector is safe, though that does not mean that there might not be incidents from time to time. In fact, Captain Gouveia told us that while he had great confidence in the safety of the sector “problems sometimes arise when things go wrong.”

There are a few other points which Captain Gouveia made that are deserving of mention here. First, he said he did not approve of aviation accident investigations being undertaken by the Guyana Civil Aviation Authority (GCAA), which is what is done at this time. In fact, he wants the practice stopped and the responsibility for accident investigations passed to independent commissions of enquiry. That, he pointed out, was how it was done in other parts of the world. Another point he made had to do with the outcomes of the investigations, which remain classified documents. Captain Gouveia said there really ought to be nothing either secret or classified about professional and transparent probes of aircraft accidents. In fact, he made a strenuous argument for these being placed in the public domain so that “why what happened, happened” could be understood, with a view to taking corrective action where necessary.

But he did not stop there. He went on to raise searching questions about the institutional competence and capacity of the GCAA, as far as search and rescue and accident investigations are concerned. He said that from the perspective of his own considerable experience in the aviation sector the GCAA was decidedly and seriously underequipped to carry out search and rescue operations, particularly. In fact he made it clear that in his opinion the search and recovery operation involving the Trans Guyana aircraft that crashed a few weeks ago killing the pilot and one other occupant did not go as smoothly as it might have gone and that this was due to the competence and capacity issues to which he referred.

Afterwards, we spoke with Director of Civil Aviation Zulfikar Mohammed who insisted that his organisation has “an obligation” to conduct accident investigations. While he accepted that there might be circumstances in which these might involve investigation of the Authority itself, he said it was for the government to decide what happens in such cases. The other point about which Mr Mohammed was adamant was that his department possessed more than sufficient capacity to properly coordinate search and rescue operations.

The GCAA Head was unable to comment on the issue of the expeditious conduct of accident investigations and the placing of the results in the public domain. However, he did indicate that he would be releasing the report on the 2011 Caribbean Airlines accident which, of course, provides even more cause to wonder about all the sand dancing on issues in local aviation.

We do not believe that it is necessary to be an expert on the aviation industry to appreciate the point made by Captain Gouveia about the virtues of applying expert training, knowledge and transparency to addressing challenges that might arise in the sector. And we certainly appreciate and embrace the view that, where possible, expeditious investigations and the release of the findings that derive therefrom might help us to learn from our mistakes and not repeat them in the future.

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City Hall, central government and the parking meter matter

It is a comforting thing that sections of the citizenry have opted to hold City Hall to account in the parking meter brouhaha, if only to make the point that its behaviour in the matter of the rolling out of the project runs counter to the very commitment that it made to democratic conduct when it took office to replace a predecessor administration that had itself been accused of, not infrequently, acting as a law onto itself.

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A perspective on the small business sector

While the Stabroek Business has been unable to secure a reliable estimate of the extent of the increase in urban trading over the past five years we have noticed the pronounced upsurge in small business investments in sectors such as grooming and beauty treatment (barbering, hairdressing, cosmetology), fashion, food vending and IT goods and services.

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City Hall and the parking meters

The very last thing that City Hall needs now that it is probably better-positioned than it was a few months ago to put behind it a past strewn with accusations of fraud, mismanagement and corruption is more of the same, though it seems on the basis of the available evidence that it may not be particularly mindful of the consequences of passing the same way twice.

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Public/private sector dialogue and the economy

Several months after we raised the issue of the seemingly long-postponed public/private sector ‘summit’ there has been no definitive word from either side as to whether or when the two will meet though the former chairman of the Private Sector Commission (PSC) Major General (ret’d) Norman McLean did say in a letter to this newspaper that the meeting will take place.

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GuyExpo, Jubilee and the visitor experience

This year, small business representatives at the Jubilee GuyExpo event had much to say about how it impacted on customer patronage when compared with their customary day-to-day trading in arcades, on pavements, in malls and the like.

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Hastening public service salary negotiations

Once the programme of official events for the Jubilee Independence celebrations is over one expects that there will be some movement on the commencement of discussions between the government and the Guyana Public Service Union (GPSU) on wages and salaries and related issues.

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Jubilee opportunities

Understandably, we have no clear idea of the numbers that will arrive here over the next week to be part of the country’s 50th Independence Anniversary celebrations, though from all that we have been hearing Guyanese from the diaspora, some of whom may well not have set foot on their native soil in decades, will be ‘touching down’ here to participate in the historic celebrations.

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The Fire Service and the Gafoors conflagration

A fair number of people – including some employees of the company with whom this newspaper spoke – have commented favourably on the grit and determination with which the Guyana Fire Service battled Monday’s conflagration at the Gafoors Houston Complex.

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