On February 6, 2017, a week before the premature Valentine’s Day opening of Argyle International Airport (AIA) on the mainland of St Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG), our Prime Minister, the Honourable Dr. Ralph E. Gonsalves, argued in his 2017 Budget address that:
“…the Unity Labour Party [ULP] has accomplished a veritable miracle by turning a long-held dream of a hopeful people into a reality.
"The AIA is not only the largest capital project, by far, ever to have been constructed in SVG. It is also a metaphor, a symbol, an alive testament to what a determined people, properly led, and supported by a wave of principled internationalist solidarity of friends and allies, can achieve. The construction of the AIA, amidst all the topographical, financing, managerial and resources challenges, is one to be recorded with justifiable approbation in the annals not only of Vincentian history, but in the developmental story of disadvantaged nations across time.
"Now, all of us must make the AIA work to the benefit of the people of SVG …. It is our patriotic duty to make this happen.”
Several troubling, even blasphemous, assertions are embedded in these sentiments, none relating to the only important issues: did we need to build this international airport and, having built it, would it inevitably lift us from poverty to prosperity?
1. Is AIA a “veritable miracle
"? Far from it. There are over 800 international airports around the world, many in more disadvantaged countries or built under more difficult environmental conditions. If nothing else, this should tell us that all these “veritable miracles
” -- authentic acts of our Creator -- must have made the Almighty preoccupied with such works since the construction of the first commercial international airport in 1919.
Conversely, perhaps the Lord played no part in these efforts, including AIA, a facility our bible-thumping PM has always peddled as some new age Noah’s Ark meant to deliver our people to a brighter future. A third option, one seen as self-evident in our pre-Enlightenment society, is that God is the necessary and sufficient cause of everything. Either of these second two polar opposites would make the construction of AIA undeserving of special praise, let alone transcendent adoration.
But if the construction of AIA were a literal act of God, as the prime minister claims, the Lord should be charged with extreme tardiness (six years late), and remarkable profligacy (EC$250 million over budget, together with a whopping EC$400 million of outstanding debt), in completing His project, presumably because He was distracted micro-managing the simultaneous construction of other international airports.
Of course, the prime minister would deny these interpretations, just as he would deny that he also sacrilegiously compared himself to King David and his son, Solomon, in his January 19, 2017, address at the ground breaking for the Black Sands Resort and Villas at Peter’s Hope, juxtaposing the various AIA delays to the holdups in building the First Temple to house the Ark of the Covenant.
The unfinished landscaping at AIA, Wednesday, February 15, 2017
2. As a gifted student of classical argumentation, the prime minister knows that employing a “veritable miracle” to explain AIA is a textbook example of an unprovable appeal to the supernatural called “argument from ignorance,” an informal logical fallacy based on the absence of the criterion of falsifiability.
3. Also, how can AIA be a “veritable miracle
” when it has skyrocketed our national debt to EC$1.6 billion, a sum we could never hope to repay; forced the sale of so much precious Crown land to feed the ravenous airport beast; garnered far less than the initially promised support “…by a wave of principled internationalist solidarity of friends and allies
”; given no assurance that frequent regularly scheduled non-stop flights by various international carriers from America, Canada, and England will ever service AIA, a facility that was deserted the day after it opened; presented no evidence that foreign travelers would now come here in record numbers; and yielded lost opportunities for allocating the same monies on far worthier projects?
The deserted check-in area at AIA on Wednesday, February 15, 2017
4. If AIA were “a long-held dream
,” what was its actual content and achievability? Did we dream of building an international airport just because nearly every other Caribbean nation had one? Were we truly hoping to enhance our long-term economic well-being? Were we merely trying to make our personal overseas travel more convenient?
5. A dream may be a cherished aspiration, ambition, or ideal; it may also be an unrealistic or self-deluding fantasy. Or it may be both at the same time, as in the case of AIA.
6. Now that the size of the airport debt and its annual operating costs (EC$20 million) are known, why didn’t the budget estimates present even a crude cost-benefit analysis predicting the total annual tourist spending needed to make the project break even, a figure that also could have shown the annual visitor numbers and non-stop international flights necessary for the project to be declared financially neutral.
7. If the airport is a “metaphor
” or “symbol
” of anything, it is not of a “determined people
” since none of us ordinary folk had any input into its conception or execution. To be sure, we sheep were indeed “properly led
” by a boastful Old Testament-style shepherd eager to make his mark “…in the annals not only of Vincentian history, but in the developmental story of disadvantaged nations across time
” by reaping the rewards of five-in-a-row election victories, the only benefit AIA will ever see, an outcome that is better interpreted as “a metaphor, a symbol
” of the abuse of power in a modern parliamentary democracy.
“…if you make yourself a sheep, the wolves will eat you.” (Benjamin Franklin, 1773)
8. What will be the fruits of our eagerness to be “properly led
”? Only more labour, hardship, and sacrifice as, “… all of us must make the AIA work to the benefit of the people of SVG, at home and in the diaspora. It is our patriotic duty to make this happen
.” Despite the hyperbolic rhetoric, this straightforward project involved levelling a few low-lying coastal hills, filling some shallow valleys with their rubble, rerouting a small river, and relocating several score of willing property owners. Now the real work begins, namely, the unrealistic task of making AIA work for our benefit.
A cross-section of one of the several “mountains” levelled at Argyle
9. As I recently argued (see essay 44 below), invoking the notion of “patriotic duty
” should remind us of John F. Kennedy’s arrogant and paternalist call, “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country
.” Our shepherd, Ralph Gonsalves, claims he has miraculously built us an airport which we, his sheep, must now make a success. Any failure to do so would make us unpatriotic, perhaps even treasonous.
If the AIA project, which the prime minister also claims was conceived by “divine inspiration
,” fails to meet its developmental expectations, he is already telling us, “don’t blame me.” Rather, any culpability would be our rejection of God’s word and our unwillingness to do “our patriotic duty
.” And when the inevitable failure comes, our shepherd would surely preach that sometimes even sheep treacherously devour their own (Ezekiel 5:10), yet another good Sunday school lesson for us all.
This is the 47th in a series of essays on the Argyle International Airport folly.
My other AIA essays are listed below:
1. Get ready for a November election in St Vincent and the Grenadines! But which November?
2. Lessons for Argyle International Airport from Canada's Montreal-Mirabel International Airport
3. Lessons for Argyle International Airport from the cruise ship industry
4. Lessons from Target Canada for Argyle International Airport in St Vincent
5. Lessons from Trinidad and Tobago for Argyle International Airport
6. The dark side of tourism: Lessons for Argyle Airport
7. Why Argyle won't fly: Lessons from Dominica
8. Ken Boyea and the Phantom City at Arnos Vale
9. Airport envy Vincie-style
10. Fully realising our country's tourism potential
11. Airport without a cause
12. The unnatural place for an international airport
13. The Potemkin Folly at Argyle
14. False patriotism and deceitful promises at Argyle
15. Airport politics and betrayal Vincie-style
16. Phony airport completion election promises, Vincie-style
17. Is Argyle International Airport really a ‘huge game-changer for us’?
18. Has the cat got your tongue, prime minister?
19. More proof that Argyle won't fly
20. Our very own Vincentian cargo cult at Argyle
21. The missing Argyle Airport feasibility studies
22. The world's four most amazing abandoned airports
23. Farming, fishing, and foolish talk about Argyle International Airport
24. Argyle Airport amateur hour
25. St Vincent's place in the world of travel
26. Investing in St Vincent's tourism industry
27. The Argyle Airport Prophecy: What the numbers say
28. Did the IMF drink the Comrade's Kool-Aid?
29. Why Qatar? Why St Vincent and the Grenadines?
30. Foolish words about Argyle International Airport
31. 'If I come, you will build it': Lessons from the Maldives for Argyle International Airport
32. City lessons for Argyle International Airport
33. Who really lands at Arnos Vale?
34. No ticky, no washy - Argyle-style
35. We have met the Vincentian tourism enemy and he is us
36. Hotel St Vincent
37. Why St Vincent Island has so few tourists
38. Why Bequia is a gem of the Antilles
39. Why seeing is believing in the Caribbean tourism industry
40. St Vincent's cruise ship numbers are much lower than we think
41. Lessons from Barbados for Argyle Airport
42. Cuba's tourism rollercoaster: Lessons for Argyle Airport
43. What the world teaches Black Sands Resort and Villas
44. Not all Argyle airport critics are 'internet crazies'
45. Why Roraima Airways? Lessons for Argyle airport
46. The print media's take on the opening of Argyle International Airport