Books about Anguilla


Thursday, 14 July 2011


I was very concerned when a number of people called me on Sunday afternoon to complain about the closure of the Capt. Clayton J. Lloyd International Airport. I felt that in the midst of these challenges we can ill-afford to lose the little we have to the uncertainty of interrupted air transportation services. Obviously, I would never consider that it was a situation that the Government would deliberately cause ---unless there was good reason. From my usual attitude of fairness I determined that it must have been a major issue that needed to be addressed. And lest someone would have misinterpreted my interest in the matter, I decided to stay clear of the Airport until it was resolved. My position is that even the perception that there is something political about such a situation would be unhelpful to its resolution. I live here! I love my country! And I want to see Anguilla return to its former glory. All politics aside! 

It was therefore both disappointing and disturbing when the first call I received this morning, Monday, July 10th, was that the Chief Minister was on the radio blaming the entire issue on the past Government and the establishment of a Port Authority.  Even a modern day “Houdini” would be challenged to perform such a trick that would cast the blame, for what appears to be an industrial action, on a Government that has not been in Office for almost seventeen months.  Furthermore, a decision to close an Airport is implemented when the proper conditions that provide for the safety of the users are not in place. Whatever the political interests, the regulatory requirements for the safe operations of an airport facility must be met. Indeed, both private and commercial airline operators themselves would not be prepared to risk flights in or out of a destination when these conditions are not guaranteed. In other words, whether the Airport is run by a Government Department or by a Statutory Body (like a Port Authority), such decisions are not supposed to be subjective or political, they are to be based on the conditions, literally, “on the ground”. 

For the Chief Minister to adopt his usual approach of casting the blame at a time when he should be getting to the root of the problem --- or at least, in the interim, trying to use moral suasion to get the Air Traffic Controllers back on the job is, to say the least, disheartening.  It seems that he would prefer to fall back into his comfort zone where he can simply blame, accuse or attack someone or some group of persons --- rather than address the matter as a leader who is in charge and prepared to accept full responsibility for what happens on his watch.

Many of you may have observed the manner in which a number of Presidents of the United States have dealt with the actions of Air Traffic Controllers on strike. While they are Federal Departments and Agencies responsible for such employees those Presidents have elevated the issue to a National Emergency. None of those Presidents blamed any previous Administration or Agency for the problem. Their first order of business was to keep the Airports open and safe.  Apparently, our Chief Minister’s first order of business is to seek political mileage and “cuss out” someone or some group of persons, particularly his political opponents, before he gets down to addressing the problem responsibly. More “smoke and mirrors”.

Persons who are not inclined to “connect the dots” on issues of this nature may underestimate the gravity of what has occurred and is occurring even as I am writing. There are closures and there are closures. There is a clear distinction between the Airport closing as a result of a natural disaster or condition as opposed to closing because of an issue that is related to the management of the facility or the conduct of the employees. Natural disasters and conditions are typically beyond our ability to control, whereas management and staffing issues reflect heavily on the quality of the destination. In each case Anguilla as a destination is affected both in terms of the service to its own people as well as the service to the other people and markets we seek attract. However, when this occurs as a result of an issue, which is under our control, there is the additional impact of negative publicity, dissatisfied customers and unhappy service providers, which exacerbates the problem even further. 

In this context, it may be instructive to list some of the effects of the closure of the Clayton J. Lloyd International Airport over the last two days based on my research as follows: 

·         A number of private jets bringing visitors to Anguilla were inconvenienced. One was redirected to St. Martin. Two were forced to leave early. Those international operators may not be willing to service Anguilla in the future. 

·         None of the Scheduled Airlines could bring their passengers into Anguilla or take any out. Those passengers were inconvenienced in many ways and had to make separate arrangements at additional costs. 

·         None of the locally owned Charter Services could operate and as a result customers who had made arrangements to meet tight travel deadlines were unable to do so and charters already arranged and possibly paid for have had to be cancelled and refunded. Future bookings could also be in jeopardy. 

·         Hotel guests coming to Anguilla or already in Anguilla in this very slow period of the year have cancelled or have left earlier using other routes and methods because of the uncertainty. 

·         Some Hoteliers, to save face, have had to give complimentary accommodation and services at a time when they need the revenue and may have lost future bookings. 

·         A number of ancillary services like car rentals, restaurants, water sports etc have lost business. 

·         The Government has lost revenue. 

·         Our image as a destination may be tarnished. 

It has not yet been established what the circumstances are which have caused all the Air Traffic Controllers to be sick at the same time. No epidemic has been identified and none of the illnesses reported are similar. Obviously, the only reasonable conclusion that may be drawn is that this is some form of industrial action. Far be it from me to challenge the right of any worker or group of workers to protest any conditions of work, which they deem to be unfavourable. However, I would expect that they would inform their employers as to their concerns before they decide to take actions of this nature, especially, when holding jobs, which have such far reaching consequences. I have not been able to determine, up to the time of writing, what prompted this apparent industrial action or what triggered it. What I will say, however, is that what the Chief Minister and his colleagues ought to be trying to determine is how they could assist the Port Authority in resolving this matter. They would have had to do the same thing if it were a Government department. When it comes to industrial action in a sector, which impacts the whole country, it is indeed a national issue. It should not be about the Chief Minister rushing down to the Airport intent on bullying the Manager and employees into opening the airport. It requires sensitive negotiations taking into account what could well be genuine grievances rather than the use of silly threats in an attempt to gain an audience.  

As I mentioned earlier the Chief Minister tried not only to blame the past Government in his remarks but also the Port Authority. Again it may be instructive to explain why the Port Authority exists and why it is helpful to the Government of Anguilla. Some persons may have noticed that this is the only Board, which the Government did not “mess with” when it came to Office. The reason being that the establishment of a Port Authority Board was one of the pre-conditions for the disbursement of the EC$ 25 million, which the past Government negotiated with the European Development Fund (EDF) and which this Government was able to utilize to meet recurrent expenditure requirements in 2010.  

But the Port Authority exists for other very important reasons to our national development. Firstly, because the area of air and sea transportation requires a very expensive infrastructure, it is therefore one, which cannot be readily addressed within the normal government departmental structure where the competition for funding is normally skewed towards more social issues. As a consequence the capital costs for such kinds of development are best achieved through financing arrangements, which are directly tied to the effective management of the facilities as a separate business entity. This separation allows for more flexibility and creativity in financing arrangements, including private participation.  

Secondly, as a separate entity, the Port Authority can do its own borrowing based on its own business plan. This allows the Government to reduce the weighting of such loans in its borrowing portfolio and thereby get more financing for other critical infrastructure or social projects.  In addition, the Port Authority arrangement will also take off a considerable percentage of the existing loan obligations for port facilities now being held by Government for the Airport and the Seaports.  This will further give the Government more borrowing capacity. Is this not what the Chief Minister has been arguing for, that is, less restrictions on borrowing? 

Thirdly, the Chief Minister continues to complain that the British Government wants him to lay off public servants. With the establishment of the Port Authority automatically one hundred and ten (110) workers have been removed from Public Establishment allowing the Chief Minister to demonstrate that he has made reductions in the size of the public service. As a separate entity the Port Authority would then be able to apply more flexible and creative ways of managing and deploying its employees to create better efficiencies than those possible in usual public service arrangements. 

Finally, as a separate business entity the Port Authority is able to respond to issues related to its operations more quickly.  It removes the day-to-day administrative responsibility from the Government and allows the persons with the appropriate technical expertise to make the decisions. In this arrangement, the role of Government is a regulatory one, namely, to ensure that the Authority provides a fair service to all users at an equitable price. The Government having enacted the enabling legislation has the necessary monitoring mechanisms in place to ensure that the Authority keeps in line without having to be actively involved. In the case of the present Chief Minister he can now easily find someone to blame whenever things go wrong. It is unfortunate, however, that he seems to think that by disbanding the authority or changing the Board members the regulatory issues, which govern the operations of the airport will disappear.

I hope that I have made the point that the situation at the Airport has nothing to do with the previous Government or the Port Authority as opposed to a Government Department. The root of the problem needs to be uncovered. Underlying grievances, which require resolution, cause industrial action or strikes. They usually occur when all else fails. The question then is what needs to be done to resolve this obvious impasse?  What is most curious about this particular action is that no one has given a reason. Which means that there is no effective communication on the matter.  

These are the facts --- as we know them! The Airport Manager ordered the closure of the Airport because of lack of coverage by Air Traffic Controllers. The Air Traffic Controllers have all come down with a variety of illnesses. Some of them have presented medical certificates to prove their condition --- others have taken the discretionary three-day sick leave. The Airport Manager has not presented any communications from the Air Traffic Controllers regarding the situation.  

To put it bluntly, the silence is deafening. No movements at the Capt. Clayton J. Lloyd International Airport! With this fiasco and no good news on the tourism projects, namely, Flag, Solaire, the Fountain Beach and others --- when will this economy take-off?   We long to hear: “Victor! Poppa! ….  Alpha! Uniform! Mike!  Clear for take-off!

Victor F. Banks
Sachasses Estate
July 12, 2011

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