In today’s issue of SN (10.2.09), the Minister of Finance stated in his 2009 budget presentation to the National Assembly that the nominal sum of $108 million has been allocated for constructing two airstrips, one each on the islands of Leguan and Wakenaam in the Essequibo River.
These islands comprise mainly poor farming communities lacking basic amenities whose priorities are: 1. job creation (over 30% of the workforce unemployed); 2. better roads, water supply, electricity (which is only supplied at night and on weekends for most of the time); health care; trained teachers and better class rooms and equipment for their schools; landline telecommunication; river defence upgrade; and river transportation. Therefore, the construction of airstrips on these islands at this time is not a priority for poor people there who hardly have the means of paying the cost for a speedboat to take them to Parika and onwards by minibus to Georgetown, much less to purchase plane tickets for travel from these strips to take them to God knows where.
The question is posed as to the need for these airstrips and whether the government carried out a feasibility study as to the viability of air transportation for farming communities on these islands whose priorities are far removed from airstrips. It is to be assumed that construction, maintenance and operation costs as well as an environmental impact study would have been taken into consideration in any feasibility study for these strips, since the evidence suggests that they are likely to be white elephants with no strategic or economic − although seemingly political − importance.
In these difficult financial times it is necessary for proper planning by the government so that the priority needs of the people it represents are met.
The needs of these islanders at this time will not be met by pork projects, but by money spent on meaningful projects which will have an immediate impact on job creation and on improving their lives and those of their children. For a start, GPL and GWI could begin supplying electricity and water respectively 24/7 while TH&D could improve its ferry services to ensure that their schedules (instead of LPAT − leave Parika any time) are met and there is adequate capacity for freight and passengers. Then there are roads to be paved, hospitals to be adequately equipped, schools to be repaired, sluices and channels to be improved and refurbished for proper drainage of farm lands, and on and on. These are the priorities of the people of Leguan and Wakenaam at this time, not airstrips which will take them nowhere since they don’t have the means for the luxury of air travel.