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Missing link, free enterprise, and Virgin Islands Airport Politics

Above: Dickson Igwe. Photo: supplied
By Dickson Igwe

Is privatization the way forward for the Virgin Islands economy? Big government is one of the bogeymen affecting Virgin Islands commercial and economic progress negatively. The very large size of the public sector is a weight on free enterprise. This story looks at the airport development model, and suggests that privatization or part privatization of certain public assets is the solution to weaning the country off the public sector and creating a new commercial dynamism.

However, just like the British privatization model of the 1980s and early 90s, it must be done for the benefit of Joe Public, by creating a new group of stockholders and shareholders comprising the Virgin Islands masses. The creation of a mini stock market based upon the Wall Street Model and City of London models, where newly privatized stocks and shares are traded locally, and a facility accessible to local and international investors is certainly a possibility one day.

This idea of a Virgin Islands Stock Exchange could be a new market opportunity that develops into other forms: international stocks, commodities trading, currency dealing, international securities, and so on and so forth. In a financial services economy, this type of financial market operated by independent traders plugged into global stock exchanges, and securities trading floors and platforms, could become a perfect fit. It will create new market dynamism in the country. Technology is making the impossible possible this early 21st Century.

The following narrative is part of a series assessing the political pulse of the Virgin Islands as Mid Term approaches; it highlights a very intelligent posting from an online blogger.

Now this Observer and Writer, in one of his political stories, determined that the state of the US economy could affect the political trajectory in the Virgin Islands directly. He asserted that a strong and healthy US economy, from past observation, fed into the Virgin Islands tourism market directly, creating positive commercial synergies. This was manifested by an increased number of US visitors to Virgin shores. These were visitors who began to take more vacations, spending higher sums of cash than usual on various leisure activities once in the Caribbean: a direct result of the feel good factor in the USA. US consumers today are feeling better off: they are wealthier, after a financial recession that had them badly pummeled.

Why the assertion about consumer optimism in the USA? Well, the news on May 28, 2013, from this Tweeter’s Twitter News Stream, was that the Dow was up 200 points, with US house prices up over 10%, and US consumer confidence, the highest it has been in years. A thriving US economy is always good news for incumbent governments in the Caribbean; governments that depend upon the US visitor for a substantial portion of their tourism revenues. As stated in an earlier story, more affluence in the USA means more money entering the BVI, from the pockets of US and Canadian tourists, and circulating within the local economy. This has the potential of increasing the feel good factor, always a benefit for an incumbent government in a democracy. However, infrastructure improvements locally are crucial to the continued inflow of tourists from North America. These are guests who spend days in the territory, servicing the local economy.
OK, there were some very intelligent responses to an online article of May 25, 2013, headed, ‘’ the politics of the Terrance B Lettsome International Airport. ‘’ One response was an assertion that: ‘’ the government will not be spending money on the airport directly.’’ That the Terrance B Lettsome Airport Development Project would, ‘’ be a similar arrangement like with the proposed cruise pier, with private investment.’’

The responder went on to state that the project was a, ‘’ design, finance, and build project, that was tendered and interest was shown.’’ This was very interesting to your Observer. Private capital in public projects, and private sector partnership with government is the modus Vivendi in most advanced industrialized nations.

MISSING LINK, the anonymous blogger, went on to instruct stating: ‘’ globally airports are run as private public partnerships with the private entity running the operations.’’ Missing link also stated that, ‘’ every tourist that comes to the BVI benefits hotels, restaurants, taxis, tours, and many other things.’’

‘’Every time a plane lands with people we all benefit,’’ the blogger stated. The pro airport development blogger and writer described this business theory as, ‘’ INDIRECT STIMULUS TO THE ECONOMY.’’ Missing Link further asserted that, ‘’ the private sector, once done right, can run things better than government. It has been proven.’’ And the writer alluded to the notion, that we should not allow private investment or partnership, because an outsider stands to profit, as immature.

This Observer could not fault Missing Link’s OUT OF THE BOX thinking: no not at all. And this was an analytical response to all the emotionalism and reactive thinking on airport development of recent. Missing link further hammered down another fact. The allusion was made to how the BVI travel albatross benefits the United States Virgin Islands. Travelers to and from the BVI, frequently have to overnight in St. Thomas. And guess what? Right! ‘’They have to buy food, drink, support the taxi drivers, and rental companies. ‘’ The hotel industry in the USVI makes a good living off of BVI transit guests.

BVI travelers as well as Residents are a crucial pillar of the United States Virgin islands economy. Whether this is a good or bad thing is a matter of opinion. However, were it the other way around, one wonders whether the US Government would not do all it could to keep business within its own shores.

Yes Missing Link was quite right when further stating that, ‘’ the USVI are very happy when we continue to look backwards.’’ The writer challenged the skeptics to do their own math: ‘’on the restaurant, hotel, bars, shops, taxi monies,’’ spent in the USVI by BVI guests. This is money that should have been kept in the BVI. However, for every guest that travels to the BVI via the roundabout route, a significant share of that money never sees the BVI. It stays in either Charlotte Amalie or San Juan, servicing and lubricating those economies. Instead many residents here scream about keeping the country, ‘’UNSPOILED.’’ How absurd. Businessmen across the sea must be glad for the millions of dollars that leak out the BVI economy every year due to infrastructure deficits, such as limited airlift in and out the country, and below average ferry services that terminate in the early afternoons.

Worse still, Missing Link warned about travelers that end up, ‘’ staying in the USVI and just doing day sails, or fishing trips, over to the BVI, less hassle, and they still get to experience the BVI. But who wins? ‘’ Missing Link asserts. These travelers spend much more money in St. Thomas than they spend in the BVI. This observer has already alluded to the millions of dollars lost to the BVI annually owing to travel limitations in accessing this destination.

Now in the same stream, the issue of economic growth in the country, and the limits thereof, is also a result of a public sector that is inordinately large. This is a public sector that controls over a third of the Virgin Islands economy, and that is a weight on free enterprise and commercial dynamism not easy to remove.

The country could well be doing a lot better if voters got off the notion that government can solve all of the country’s economic problems. The answer to the future growth and prosperity of the Virgin Islands is in the private sector. Whether today or sometime in the future, this may well mean the privatization of a large segment of the Virgin Islands public sector, with electricity, post office, water and sewage, airport, sea ports, and so on and so forth given to Joe Public in stocks and shares.

Only social infrastructure such as health, social welfare, and education, need to stay in the hands of a government. Yes, this is a radical and ambitious idea. But it is an idea worth looking at closely as a solution to some of the country’s economic woes.

To be continued

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5 Responses to “Missing link, free enterprise, and Virgin Islands Airport Politics”

  • ccc (01/06/2013, 11:52) Like (0) Dislike (0) Reply
    another good read
    • time will tell (02/06/2013, 02:34) Like (0) Dislike (0) Reply
      The country will either sink or swim over deeds issues yall
  • points (02/06/2013, 02:32) Like (0) Dislike (0) Reply
    this anti airport nonsense is being pushed by the Doc white friends from trellis Bay for political reasons- it is as simple as that-
    • BACK UP (02/06/2013, 19:34) Like (0) Dislike (0) Reply
      Bigger better and huge airports, seaports etc is out and thing of the pass wake up BVI from placing our country in debt
  • jtv (03/06/2013, 07:17) Like (0) Dislike (0) Reply
    Why does igwe feel the need to reply to a blogger? Yaaawn

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