A national disgrace
October 25, 2003
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A scary situation has developed at the Cheddi Jagan International Airport, Timehri. It did not happen overnight. Instead, like many of the ignominious practices that have become the norm in our public institutions under the banner ‘This is Guyana’, it started small and has been allowed to fester and become a canker.
Persons whose work takes them to the airport and those who travel on a regular basis would have noticed that when flights land after school hours, hordes of school children throng the arrivals area. They are not awaiting returning relatives. They are there to beg. Nationals and visitors alike are followed to their vehicles by children asking for “a little something”.
The children’s ages and school uniforms place them at a primary school, which must be situated somewhere in the Timehri area based on the time they arrive at the airport or else they are playing truant. The situation was the same during the August holidays, except that the beggars might have been mistaken for street children and there seemed to be more of them. The fact that they continue to present themselves at the airport suggests that they have been receiving handouts and are encouraged by these.
The situation is disgraceful. And as if that were not bad enough, the transportation touts, who at one time had been successfully removed from the airport, have returned. So far, they do not attempt to grab at travellers or take their bags, but the shouting, and in-your-face hustling for passengers is present. Then there are the sinister-looking men who appear out of nowhere and follow passengers to their vehicles. Under the pretext of helping the airport’s Red Cap men and without so much as a by-your-leave, these men would ‘assist’ in lifting the passengers’ luggage into their vehicles. If they are not stopped, passengers are expected to pay them.
Several questions need to be answered. The most important of these is whether the parents of this new breed of child beggars are aware that they are soliciting at the airport. Are the teachers and administrators of their school(s) aware of the problem and are they doing anything to address it? Is the Ministry of Education aware? Surely some harassed traveller has made a report by now? Or have people become so blind and/or immune that they have shrugged it off or accepted it?
With regard to the touts and the unofficial ‘baggage boys’, it is obvious that the police have turned a blind eye. There are officers on duty at the airport daily in various areas, yet the problem has been allowed to develop. Or is it that they are waiting for the announcement of another campaign before anything is done? Whatever happened to using initiative?
Finally, the buck stops or is supposed to stop with the airport manager. It is the airport manager’s duty to ensure that the area which falls under his jurisdiction is welcoming, not only to visitors who draw their first impressions of the country from what they see at the airport, but also returning Guyanese. Harassment, in any form, is ugly and money spent on infrastructural improvements is wasted if systems are not put in place to control such problems.