Chief Sec: PM, Tobago MPs should push for more domestic flights

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Chief Secretary Farley Augustine at a recent press conference in Bacolet. FILE PHOTO –

Chief Secretary Farley Augustine says the Prime Minister and Tobago MPs Shamfa Cudjoe and Ayanna Webster-Roy should be pushing for longer opening hours at the ANR Robinson airport so that Caribbean Airlines Ltd (CAL) could increase its flights to the island.

The THA, hoteliers and other stakeholders have long been clamouring for CAL to increase its flights to the island, particularly during peak travel periods, such as Easter, the July-August vacation and the upcoming October Carnival.

Augustine has already said the THA is willing to cover the cost of approximately $5.6 million annually to extend the airport’s opening time to 2 am.

In a television interview on Tuesday, Augustine gave an update, saying he spoke to CAL CEO Garvin Madera about two weeks ago.

“There are some issues they are trying to iron out in terms of staffing (and) availability of planes. But I intend to write formally this week seeking an audience, because we have to get back to the pre-covid19,” he said.

Saying he does not intend to attack any of CAL’s managers, Augustine noted: “The THA does not have direct control over CAL. The Cabinet has control over CAL. The Cabinet sets the mandate for CAL.”

He added, “But in that Cabinet, we have at least one member (Cudjoe) who is an MP for Tobago. We have a junior minister (Webster-Roy) but she is not a Cabinet member. We have a prime minister that is also Tobagonian.

“I am saying that the Cabinet has to take responsibility and instruct the Minister of Finance or whomever is the corporation sole with regard to CAL to have this thing done.

“The point is that we should not be arguing or trying to fight with CAL or the CEO. They are not responsible. It is the Cabinet that has to stand up.”

Augustine urged the media to contact the MPs to determine what kind of advocacy, if any, they have been doing to increase the number of flights.

“On our end, I am clearing the way. For heaven’s sake, increase the number of flights.”

Augustine said at his next meeting with CAL, he also intends to push for more flights from New York and other destinations such as Miami, “because we are getting positive and strong feedback.”

He also reiterated the need for direct foreign investment in Tobago, post-covid19.

Saying the issue remains contentious, he said, “Half of the population believes there must be some land-licensing regime and we should prevent foreigners from buying out all of the lands. And there is another half that says just free up the market, because we have not had any significant direct foreign investment.”

Augustine said the Sandals resort project did not qualify as direct foreign investment, “given that the State was going to build the hotel and make all of the investment, with Sandals coming at the back end.”

He said since becoming Secretary of Finance, Trade and the Economy in December, he has seen some proposals from foreign companies interested not only in building hotels but developing the tourism sector.

“But it is the Minister of Finance that must sign off. Is not to say that the Minister of Finance hates Tobago and does not want to sign off on anything for Tobago.

“It might just be out of an abundance of caution. He doesn’t understand the lay of the land, communities in which some of the proposals are being pitched for, and might be hesitant in terms of signing off.”

Augustine believes the country should never have a system that is dependent on a single individual or minister to determine which foreigner could buy land, “because that could easily become corrupt.”