Freedom of Information stillborn in Barbados
In the editorial column of another publication recently, the writer seized on what I thought was a very pertinent question. ‘How much of the enormous government taxes tacked onto flight tickets actually go toward the maintenance of our airports?’.
In the case of our own airport, Grantley Adams International (GAIA), the taxpayer may never know the answer, because even though the facility is wholly owned by Government, it feels no obligation to publish its annual audited accounts for public scrutiny.
“A polite request made a few days ago for the airport’s latest fiscal statements, met with a deafening NO!”
While its difficult to draw any direct similarity, I wonder if ‘we’ the taxpayers had been able to view the accounts of another Government entity, the ill-fated Hotels and Resorts Ltd (GEMS) in a timely manner, perhaps then more pressure could have been brought to bear, to prevent the hemorrhage of hundreds of millions of dollars. So to try and calculate any comparison between the amount of taxes paid by departing passengers and what proportion GAIA Inc., retains towards operational and capital costs is almost impossible.
I also posed two other questions to the airport public relations department., and asked if direct air to cruise ship and in-transit passengers paid the same amount of ticket taxes as other travellers, but sadly did not receive a response.
This lack of accountability and transparency does nothing to enhance the wider understanding of the industry and the various contributions made by the many component players.
I will however compliment GAIA Inc., on the statistics section of the their website. At a glance you can compare, on a monthly basis the numbers of embarked and disembarked passengers, those in-transit and transfers, together with cargo, number of aircraft movements etc. Especially interesting is comparing the airport disembarked figures with long stay visitor arrivals figures on the CTO website.
Preliminary stay over arrivals for July were 51,253, down 12 per cent for the same month in 2011, while the airport disembarked number was 84,734, a variance of 33,481 or over 65 per cent.
August long stay visitors numbered 43,191 which represented a decline of 13.6 per cent over 2011, but with 77,601 disembarked passengers, a differential of 34,410 or around 79 per cent more.
As transit and transfer movements are shown separately, I think the discrepancy in these figures have to be explained. Are they residents returning home, people flying in for visas for the day and not occupying accommodation or who? Clearly, it could make a massive difference with the sustainability of airlift.
The gaps get even bigger in the winter months. As an example in January, 101,738 disembarked passengers yet only 52,619 long stay visitors. In fact, if you average the first eight months of 2012, the number of disembarked passengers is nearly double that of long stay visitors. What also appears inequitable, is that the same rationale for recovery of costs that is applied to the airport, does not seem to apply to the seaport.
We are told the stated justification of massive hike in departure or services fees, is to cover the true costs of GAIA Inc. But if the BOLT financed Sugar Point Cruise Terminal becomes a reality, will the repayments be totally funded by port fees and other charges directly related to servicing the cruise ships?
So many questions, so few answers!