Opposition Senator Caswell Franklyn is demanding that Government provide answers on the future of the Grantley Adams International Airport (GAIA) which is owned by the people of Barbados.
Senator Franklyn, while speaking on the Grantley Adams International Airport (Transfer of Management and Vesting of Assets) Amendment Bill 2021 in the Senate today, wants to know who will be the new operators of GAIA which has advertised for an experienced, qualified private investor to operate, manage, expand and improve operations at the airport through a Public-Private Partnership.
He is also seeking answers on whether GAIA was being handed over to a private operator because it is failing.
“These are things that you must explain to the country before you go and take up our assets and give them to whosoever you will. I don’t know who, I don’t know why and these things are relevant. The people of this country own that airport and if you are giving away something belonging to me at least let me know why you giving it away.
“At least bring me on board for our assets. The last government gave away Light and Power and you see how that turned out after a little storm we had here the other day. I have never seen such a mess. Why are we doing this? Who are we doing it for? It is certainly not for the people of Barbados,” he told the Chamber.
In introducing the Bill, Minister of Tourism and International Transport Senator Lisa Cummins said in 2019 Government entered an agreement with the International Financial Corporation which is the private sector arm of the World Bank to undertake the process of transitioning GAIA into a public private sector partnership.
She said the agreement is a beneficial relationship for Barbados and explained that the concession would allow for the improvement and expansion of GAIA Inc’s infrastructure, provide private sector management to address and reform the operational efficiencies and inefficiencies, improve service quality standards in line with international best practices, enhance the passenger experience and ultimately position GAIA Inc. as a southern regional logistics hub for the Caribbean.
Cummins noted that GAIA, a commercial state-owned entity, has also been affected by the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, leaving a number of operational issues that need to be addressed. She also indicated that there is need for infrastructural improvements at the now dated airport facility.
The minister said the lifespan of the concession agreement will be for a period of potentially 30 years. Cummins gave the assurance that Government would be maintaining the protection of labour at GAIA when the partnership deal is sealed, in the same way it did with the transfer of funds from Central Government to the airport’s management to meet its operating cost over the past year as it experienced a 95 per cent fall-off in revenue due to the pandemic.
Senator Cummins said: “We have structured it in a way that would allow for us to meet all of our international obligations, all of our performance standards, while at the same time improving operating efficiencies. Now the purpose at this time of the legislative amendment is to allow for the GAIA Inc to take the necessary steps to enter into this concession agreement and to rationalize how contracts are transferred to the operator. I wish to make the following point clear, full regulatory management for our air space and administration of our aviation sector will remain with the Government of Barbados. Those services have not been transferred to a concessionaire.”
However, Senator Franklyn said while Cummins indicated that Government will be ensuring the protection of labour at GAIA, he has never seen this happen before in Barbados. In fact, he said the current administration is not known for protecting labour.
The trade unionist said he hoped that if GAIA workers are to be given new contracts as part of the public-private partnership transition process, they would be paid severance.
“Government must look to protect the workers of this country from the people we bring here,” Franklyn told the Senate. “They come and they talk about all kinds of fancy stuff. We give a hotel all the concessions in the world, and that place is a hell hole for workers. Everything that we do workers are suffering as a result.
“They are frightened to join unions, they tell them don’t join unions, right here in Barbados. When we have all these fancy agreements, we do not work in anything to do with the protection of workers. So, if you’re going to give away our airport to these entities, all I can do is appeal to you to do the right thing by the workers of this country.” (AH)