If government had stuck to the original Cheddi Jagan International Airport (CJIA) expansion design, there would have been no reason to implement the recent $7,000 roundtrip security fee since the increase in traffic would have absorbed expenses, Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo says.
“A substantial part of this was our plan for the airport. Our plan was to use the airport as a mini-hub to connect with Northern Brazil through Roraima, Barbados, Suri-name and North America … [to] increase traffic,” Jagdeo told a press conference on Thursday. “You can often do what you want with increased traffic. It is why the size of the airport matters. If you increase traffic, you don’t need to increase fees because you operate now on volume,” he added.
He explained that when his PPP/C government entered into an agreement for the US$150 million expansion project, the plan was to have a long enough runway and terminals that could hold “eight planes at one time” and he believes that the current APNU+AFC government resized the project.
More airlines and increased and direct flights to Europe and North America, according to Jagdeo, would have afforded this country a number of opportunities.
“You would have more freight because with the larger aircraft coming in, it would have been a big boost to the non-traditional industries; perishables and stuff. So the cost to operate to North America and Europe would have gone down. You would have been able to ship more things there. It would have been based on more airlines coming, more passengers coming, etcetera. It was mainly on volume growth as to a vertical increase in the fees, especially by that magnitude. That is a huge fee,” he said.
Caribbean Airlines last week advised travellers that the CJIA has increased its airport security fee and introduced a passenger service charge, which are effective from April 1st. In a press release, the airline said the CJIA has advised all airlines that the fees are to support the improvements at the airport.
As a result, the cost to travellers for a return (round) trip is US$35 (GY$7,315), while for departing passengers it is US$17, and for one-way departing passengers it is US$15, payable in Guyana dollars at the prevailing foreign exchange rate.
In addition to an outpouring of complaints from the public about the charges, Minister of Business Dominic Gaskin told this newspaper on Wednesday that he was shocked at the arbitrary way the increase was implemented while stressing that it will have a negative impact on the local tourism sector.
“People book flights based on price and if you charge US$20 more, it will have an impact. Countries who know this, they don’t just raise arbitrarily, they do all kinds of assessments to decide on how it will impact the industry,” he said.
“Guyana is already an expensive place to visit and I was a little concerned when I read it. If you want to attract people, you don’t do so by making it more expensive to travel to those countries,” he added.
Gaskin explained that he learnt of the new fees in the media. He related that when he enquired from his colleagues if they were aware of the new fees, they too indicated that they had no knowledge of it. “I heard about it last Tuesday while we were at Cabinet…I was just as surprised as most Guyanese…I raised it with a few colleagues who were just as surprised…,” he said.
He explained that he would have had it on his agenda to raise at last Tuesday’s sitting of Cabinet, which would have been his last, but his flight was delayed and he did not arrive in the country until late Tuesday afternoon.
It is still unsure how government feels about the fees as there has been no word from it since the issue has been raised.
Jagdeo said that he agrees with Gaskin that the fees could have a negative impact on tourism but is even more perplexed about how a decision that affects the entire country and has the potential to hamper tourism could be made without government’s knowledge. “This may be the one time I agree with Dominic Gaskin but how do you run a government and you don’t know? How do you run a government and the minister responsible for tourism doesn’t even know or agree with the increase and is a member of the Cabinet? He said that other members of the Cabinet also did not know,” Jagdeo said.
Jagdeo added that his party will continue to lead calls for an investigation into the CJIA expansion work as it doesn’t believe that this country got value for the US$150 million spent.
With Minister of Public Infrastructure’s predecessor Robeson Benn also calling for an investigation, Patterson has said that he welcomes the investigation.