Editorial | Who is accountable for Palisadoes debacle?
Like its major hospitals, seaports, electricity grid, water-supply systems, and telecoms operation, a country's international airports are usually considered among its vital infrastructure. Their operation and security, especially in these days of global terrorism, tend to be the subject of heightened attention by governments.
The logic is simple. These facilities are critical to the effective functioning of modern economies. Put them out of commission, and societies fall into chaos. But hospitals and airports, and so on, don't stand in isolation. They operate with the support of collateral infrastructure, including the roads that allow people to get to and from them.
This ought to be an important lesson of which Jamaicans were reminded from the chaos on the Palisadoes road on New Year's Eve.
The Palisadoes connects the city to the community of Port Royal, as well as the capital's Norman Manley International Airport. Jamaica's other international airport is more than 200 kilometres away, in Montego Bay, the tourism hub, on the island's northwestern coast. Effectively, the Norman Manley airport is the airport that serves the eastern half of Jamaica, and is the primary point of entry and exit for business travels.
On New Year's Eve, from afternoon and into the next morning, a major party was held somewhere along the Palisadoes road, which is one of the areas that has been proposed a so-called special entertainment zone, as part of the response to increasing complaints against night noises from the fÍtes that are held across Jamaica with seeming abandon and disregard for the concerns of communities.
The complaint this time, however, was not the ear-piercing decibel of the sound systems, but rather the logjam of traffic of the two-lane road, on which the Government spent US$65 million in the mid -2000s to raise by over three metres and to install sea defences after it had been overflowed by hurricane waves. So bad was the traffic congestion, as this newspaper reported, motorists complained of travelling a mere 100 metres in four hours.
In desperate attempts to catch their flights, some airline passengers abandoned vehicles to thumb rides on motorcycles and bicycles. Some people chose to walk, luggage in tow, for as much as four kilometres to the airport. Scores of people missed their flights. In some cases, apparently, flights were delayed as airplanes awaited crew and passengers.
The Palisadoes debacle raises several important policy questions and issues for the Jamaican authorities.
This newspaper fears what might have been the potential consequences had there been a serious emergency at the Norman Manley airport on New Year's Eve even something akin to the 2009 incident when an American Airlines aircraft overshot the runway, crashed through a perimeter fence, went across the Port Royal road, and came to a stop near the sea. No one was seriously injured in that mishap, but emergency vehicles were not impeded by traffic along the Palisadoes road.
There is also the question of whether the promoters of the party had the requisite permit for the event; who approved it? On what basis, and with what logistical planning? Was the Airports Authority of Jamaica involved, and what was its contribution to the process? Does the Civil Aviation Authority of Jamaica have regulations for roads leading into and out of airports, and did what happened on the Palisadoes road accord with those protocols, assuming that they exist?
But more important, if what happened on New Year's Eve is symptomatic of disorder and indiscipline in Jamaica, there is another cause for worry about the future of the country. The issue for the Government is: who will be held accountable?