Posted on 25 August 2016.
By Bennette Roach
Let us follow up with the discussion which suggests that the Montserrat Government (not just the Premier), the Ministers and Public Servants, must seek to understand the issue of “Access” and the issues surrounding it, as against the ‘folly and emotional need’ of a ferry.
At the moment as far as cargo in, and out of Montserrat, like the ferry the Government (DFID) subsidises in even a better fashion than the ferry could provide. Same applies to the air transport, with the vast contrast that the service is inadequate. So then there is the immediate and not at all difficult proposal to get a twin-otter services to and from Montserrat. We know that all the provisions have been made for this in this year’s Financial Aid package.
We ask again, who are those people and what do they bring to the table informing the discussion and decision processes to have an immediate solution that will move to the short, medium and long term progress of Montserrat’s overdue development.
Instead of making statements, such as ‘nobody wants the ferry service like I do, because there are people who need the service’, get out and tell the people the truth about why there developed the problem of no ferry service. Tell the people what it is costing to satisfy the service that brings very little returns. Hmmm! Value for Money!
If the Communication Service, now so severely lacking, to deal with this, do something about it. Instead of having people throwing hints and then have others tossing accusations and begging to be exposed for their own peace, do something about it.
What is the story about the quality of the ferry being preferred by those paying for it? We listen to much ill informed, asking questions and answering them with heavy criticisms. These are only farce with the acknowledgement that the real information is not forthcoming.
We make the argument agreeing with the Governor in her kind way of reemphasising the impoverished attitude of our public servants which includes the Ministers etc. There is also her earlier statement that there are more and better able capacity, expertise and knowledge, the case is true all round that exists in any public service.
What other countries do is bring on board advisers to Ministers who as the Governor points out make the policies that are then managed and carried out by the Permanent Secretaries through the rest of the public service. What did their boss say about that? This must be done without personal bias, or favour. The last time this was mentioned, so too was the Public Administration Act.
The truth and the bottom of the problem has to do about good governance and integrity: “…the interests of good practice and fairness”. It is much more to do with jealousy, greed and selfishness. So is it really just ‘lack of understanding and awareness?”. That is indeed the nice way of putting it. But we say it is deliberate. It has become a very bad culture. Only that culture is not really built in 20 years. But this it has become meaning it may be that latent thing the lady professor highlighted in her recent sojourn here and her call to action. Sorry we missed her, but… here is a phrase no longer to be tolerated, “…this is Montserrat!.”
Earlier we posed the suggestion that the serious lack of capacity that continues to plague the public service has much to do with the fact Montserrat was run by and for the four economists, most of whom are no longer in sight but with very strong physical effect on government business.
DFID had this to say in May 2001, after C M John Osborne had said the comments were disastrous for Montserrat: the people of Montserrat must understand that the helicopter and the ferry are costing over £100,000 per month in subsidies.
He pointed out that the ferry, capable of holding over 200 passengers, carried only 11 persons one day this week and that the helicopter “runs very rarely with a full company. We can’t continue like that” he said.
As for DFID’s meeting all its operational costs, salaries and other wages from money sent as aid to the people of Montserrat, he said:
“All of the professionals who are here working for DFID are here for a particular purpose, to do something for Montserrat. I think it would be unfair to expect the British government to pay them separately from the funds that have been given to Montserrat; because in considering the budget, how much money to allocate, they take in the factor of how much we need for experts like engineers, and architects. In a year, two years’ time, there will be less experts here so there will be less money. It’s standard practice.”
So what is the case being put to DFID who must agree the spend of the money it has provided for access. Here is what no one is telling the people: “Access subsidy – Up to £1,402,000: To support and maintain access to Montserrat.
Note this is not just ‘ferry’ access. Montserrat pushes the ‘ferry’ button but since 2012 (in fact 2009) with no proper tourism plan in place, is yet to satisfy that this difficult to support strategy is without any real base. That is where the issue lies. So here is the problem on that!
- The sea ferry subsidy, of up to £1,186,000, is dependent on the Government running the ferry service on a purely commercial basis which maximises revenue. The ferry subsidy will therefore not be used for the provision of complimentary or arbitrary reduced cost tickets.
Get the message? That is bringing the discussion to a whole new level. Soon the chicken will come home to roost!
In this SVG, FlyMontserrat and WINAIR are mentioned. The Agreement goes on to say:
Up to £164,000 will be provided to cover subsidies to the two passenger airline operators in Montserrat (SVG and fly Montserrat), and to WINAIR.
With great interest – Note: The subsidy is transferable between the air and sea providers upon agreement with DFID, in order to maintain reasonable access in the event that either mode of transport is not operational.
Here is some more background that should help inform the real decisions that ought to be made, when the discussions, if any, take place.
See the following, taking us back to 15 years. The problem can be stretched further back to 1998, when the decision for an airport was made in British parliament.
Consultants: ‘Obtain New Ferry, Hike Copter Fares’
Montserrat – helicopter
Consultants from Roughton International, who are on island reviewing the ferry and helicopter services here at the request of the Department for International Development (DFID), say Montserrat is spending too much of British aid funds on these services.
Note: Can you hear this tune? He was right then. Only he either did not know, the HMG agenda or he was playing the hypocritical game! But in February 2008, came the admission about the HMG strategy to then. That cleared the path for real and true development. A year later distrust was realised and five years later, “ambitious and fantasy” (not my words – HMG and USA experts) – We are now here nearly two years later, with no plan to correct or move on.
At a public discussion Team Leader Kenneth Grundey may have confused the public with the complexity of subsidies and deficits. He said annual figures show that spending on the ferry totals EC$8,171,147 and on the helicopter amounts to EC$4.6 million. Despite ferry revenues of EC$2,184,389, the ferry is left with a deficit of EC$5 million. For the helicopter, despite passenger revenues, there is still an annual deficit of EC$2.9 million.
Note: In 2016 I can well imagine the situation would be the same for the two years since Montserrat landed a one-year ferry contract from March 2014 and again effective March 2015 but signed three months later. There were obviously DFID concerns then, but also obvious, is that those responsible for the decision did not notice or overlooked what came to haunt them a year later in March this year: during which time, again concerns were raised by DFID in the form of their questions.
Observation: People must know that since 1999 (White Paper) HMG has declared they will not tell the OTs what to do, repeated in 2012 White Paper still being referred to; and also statements reiterating that position. (Alan Duncan in December 2011 – see last week’s Editorial, best read online. www.themontserratreportercom).
The consultants then suggested possible alternatives for each service. (Please note: This was 2001.)
For the ferry, they presented five:
- Maintain current use of the ferry and keep losing almost $6 million annually;
- Stop use of the ferry altogether, which would inconvenience travelers but would allow $6 million to be put to other uses;
- Negotiate reduced charges, and save about EC$2 million annually;
- Government purchase a (the) ferry, an option the consultants considered as a last resort;
- Charter a new ship that is most likely to give best value for money.
The consultants chose number five, saying the Opale Express, which is currently being used, was hired for an emergency in 1997 which no longer really exists. The ferry has a carrying capacity of 302 passengers, they said, but seldom carries more than 20 persons at a given time.
Note: (That last did not really change except from 50th Festival for the Christmas season and this year St. Patrick’s Week)
For the helicopter they offered six alternatives:
- Maintain current situation;
- Keep helicopter, but eliminate passenger service; have patients and/or government pay for medivac services, and reduce the MVO’s 40 hours of helicopter use a month to the designated 30 hours;
- Offer no passenger service and provide little time for search and rescue;
- Offer passenger service, search and rescue, medivac and MVO use;
- Same as four, but increase helicopter fare from EC$178 to EC$275 round trip;
- Same as five, but with subvention.
The consultants said they favor number five.
Some members of the public expressed concern that the consultants made no mention of expediting the airstrip process so as to negate the costs incurred by both the ferry and helicopter.
Did Eugene Skerritt, Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Communications and Works, speak for the Government’s position at the time? He said: ”the date 2004 has been targeted for the completion of an airstrip for the island. Until that time, he said, arrangements must be made for traveling to and from Montserrat.” We know the airport was opened in 2005.
And again we know and got a run-down last week of whence the issues were built.
Now the following and again the question – did Governor Longrigg know HMG’s position of the one foot forward and one back, whereby no significant development, infrastructure would be forthcoming because of their belief about the volcanic situation?
“End Airport Discussions Quickly” Says Governor
The issue on this occasion was later in 2001
His Excellency the Governor Anthony Longrigg sees further discussions on the airport project as unnecessary because “I mean there’s been years of discussion about this airport as I understand it,” the governor said in a radio interview with ZJB.
He said building an airport is crucial to improving life for Montserratians, and that there should be no more delays. “I don’t think it’s necessary in arguing between the Montserrat Government and the British Government,” he said.
Before his tenure as governor of Montserrat is over, Governor Longrigg said there are many things which he hopes to see accomplished. “My main wish is that by the time I leave, the island will be a far more normal, healthy place; there will be far more job satisfaction, far more employment, far more better quality of life, I think is the best way of putting it.”
On the matter of the construction of an airport and discussions relating to it, Acting Chief Minister Mrs. Dyer-Howe told the Montserrat Reporter, “the Government of Montserrat’s position is that, we are awaiting the study from the Italians before making a decision.”
Minister for Communications and Works Dr. Lowell Lewis, who advocates discussions where the airport project is concerned, particularly the proposed site at Gerald’s is currently out of state and could not be reached for comment.
Parliamentarian Chedmon Browne has voiced concern over the fact that His Excellency the governor Anthony Longrigg is “suggesting to the listening public that the Government of the day is split on the airport issue.”
He said contrary to that suggestion, “It is not the government of Montserrat that is speaking about the issue of the airport at Geralds, it is the voice of the people who have already spoken on the issue.
Now for the governor to suggest that there is an argument within the government of Montserrat over the airport issue, well, this is news to me, and I do believe that I am a member of the New PLM Party. And I am not aware of any split or argument over the issue. We’ve been firm on the issue OK. Our position has always been firm on the issue. If there is a split, like I said, it’s a new thing to me because we have stated over and over again that we would want DFID and the British officials to look at other alternatives we have suggested, to compare those alternatives, let us arrive at a decision. Last word spoken on it by the Chief Minister of Montserrat was that he is quite willing to wait until this latest consultancy report, which is about the fifth consultancy on the issue, comes out, before again even begin to discuss the issue.”
The Man From Baker Hill, John Allen, told the Montserrat Reporter he is fully supportive of Governor Longrigg’s stance on the airport issue. “I am grateful that somebody has forcefully put the cards on the table. The ball is in Montserrat’s court. No more discussions before the report, after the report, action!” Mr. Allen said.