Already cast in stone……… TOBAGO AIRPORT UPGRADE A Design for Disaster

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FINANCE BY: DAVID WALKER ACCOUNTANT & DATABASE EXPERT

Anyone who has been in­volved in the planning and execution of major projects can tell you one thing for certain. It is that a plan is based on a series of metrics and assumptions. You extrapolate from those metrics to design the building or other deliverables of the project.

Let’s look at building a sta­dium. You would want to know how many people would attend events. You would ascertain what types of events would be held, the requirements of the target audi­ence and much more besides. You would use this information to be able to arrive at the optimum de­sign for the stadium.
What happens if any of those metrics changes? Ideally, the design would change to accom­modate the new metrics. The al­ternative is that you would build a stadium that loses money, or worse, is totally unfit for purpose. Unfortunately, sometimes the new information arrives too late for changes to be effected.
That is why it is so important that all critical metrics and as­sumptions should be regularly reviewedg even before a brick is laid. Early recognition of such changes can usually save a proj­ect that would otherwise result in catastrophe. I can think of many projects undertaken by successive governments that fall into that category.
I open with these remarks in order to highlight an evident failure in the planning for the Tobago Airport. In general, just about everyone supports the ex­pansion and/or redevelopment of the Tobago Airport. This is in an­ticipation of a hoped-for improve­ment in the tourist arrivals to the
island.

An airport is not an airport is not an airport

To quote a friend – an airport is not an airport is not an airport. What he means by this quixotic statement is that there is a mul­titude of options when design­ing and constructing an airport. I imagine one would consider number of flights, size of planes, passenger throughput, type of passenger etc. All these factors and more will dictate the eventual design.
In the case of the Tobago Air­port, we have been told that the major driver of the development was to be the arrival of the San­dals hotel(s) to Tobago. We now know that that will not be the case for the foreseeable future. Given that this major input into the original planning and design is no longer relevant, it should go without saying that the design of the structures should be adjusted accordingly.
It cannot be the case that the de­sign and outcome of this project remains the same in the face of this major change. It doesn’t mat­ter whether one agrees or not with the failure of the Sandals project. What matters is that the most critical assumption underpin­ning the Tobago Airport project has changed in the most dramatic manner possible.
Have our planners and decision makers evaluated the implica­tions of this major change? Are they discharging their responsi­bilities if they haven’t? There are persons hugely affected by the ex­isting plans. Do they not deserve to know how this change affects them? These are very serious mat­ters affecting not just those people but the very viability of the proj­ect.
I am of the view that this proj­ect must go back to the drawing board. Given the massive change to the underlying assumptions, one could and should regard this as virtually a new project neces­sitating thorough analysis includ­ing Impact Assessment covering land owners, the environment, financial returns and much
more.

Projects must not be set in stone

Instead, our leaders appear to be ploughing on as if nothing has changed. This is the blueprint that has failed in project after project yet continues to be followed by every administration in my mem­ory. Should we not finally change course?
Besides doing the right thing for the success of the project, any administration owes it to its citi­zens to ensure that project design and implementation is organised so as to generate the best possible returns while causing the mini­mum negative impact on persons and the environment.
This should hold true for every project we undertake whether ma­jor or minor. Even if we believe that our leaders are the best ex­perts on all the projects that they undertake, that would still not be sufficient. Projects must not be set in stone with no regard for chang­ing circumstances.
And yes, I am saying that all actions on the Tobago Airport project should be suspended until a thorough review of the under­lying assumptions is completed. That must, of course, include a new and complete public consult­ing exercise. There should be a complete reassessment and publi­cation of the Impact Analysis and projections for the project.
A delay for this purpose will not be costly. It will almost cer­tainly generate a better-finished product, in line with require­ments, at a lesser cost than with current plans. The greater cost, as occurred at Petrotrin, the Oncol­ogy Centre and the Cultural Com­plex results from a dogged deter­mination to pursue a plan that is no longer supported by the facts on the ground.
We the people need to demand a root and branch review. We should demand that the review and any future work also be done in compliance with our Procure­ment Legislation now that we’ve been given the opportunity. It should not be “business as usual”. We must pause. We must review this project before going any
further.