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Group wants cheaper airfares in the Caribbean

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KINGSTOWN, St Vincent (CMC) — A group lobbying for a reduction in taxes and fees on intra-regional Caribbean travel has written to Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves, on behalf of 20,000 people who have “come together in opposition to the current cost of intra-regional travel and governments’ role in escalating airfares”.

The spokesperson for the group, Citizens Against High Intra-Regional Caribbean Travel Taxes, Dalano R DaSouza said that over the past two weeks, packages containing copies of the petition bearing more than 20,000 signatures were dispatched to the offices of Caribbean Community (Caricom) leaders and the Guyana-based Caricom Secretariat.

He said the packages also included a letter to each regional leader “cogently outlining the case for dialogue on the vexing issue of high intra-regional Caribbean travel taxes and fees”.

DaSouza said that, to date, only the offices of the President of Guyana David Granger and the Grenada Prime Minister Dr Keith Mitchell have acknowledged receipt of the communication.

“Accordingly, the Citizens Against High Intra-Regional Caribbean Travel Taxes is calling on the other Caricom heads of government to respond to the petition submitted to their offices,” DaSouza said.

“By signing our petition, the people of the region are collectively asking to be heard on the important issue of intra-regional Caribbean travel taxes. We hope that our leaders see it fit to engage with their constituents on this important matter,” DaSouza added.

In a November 7 letter to Prime Minister Gonsalves, the spokesman said that the issue of taxes, fees and charges (TFCs) in air transport has been a source of controversy globally, not least in the Caribbean.

He said that the Caribbean is a unique geographic space, heavily dependent on air transportation to support the tourism industry whose contribution to the gross domestic product (GDP) of Caricom member States is significant, and for some, unparalleled.

“In short, tourism is a critical component of the region’s strategic development plan. However, the increasing cost of regional travel threatens to stymie our progress,” DaSouza wrote, adding that high and increasing TFCs have contributed to the decline in intra-regional travel in recent years.

“A 2018 study by the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB) on regional air transportation found that intra-regional travel’s share of total Caribbean travel declined from 15 per cent to nine per cent between 2012 and 2017.”

At the same time, travel from the Caribbean to extra-regional destinations increased by six per cent, DaSouza said, adding that despite the slight rebound in intra-regional travel during 2018 reported by Caribbean Tourism Organisation, the cost of travel in the region remains a significant impediment to connectivity and growth.

The letter said that a 2007 study by InterVISTAS2 Consulting, commissioned by the International Air Transport Association, conducted an extensive literature review of publications and research spanning 25 years, and concluded with overwhelming certainty that higher airfares result in reduced passenger traffic demand.

“In the Caribbean, this issue of cost is exacerbated by the TFCs which, when added to the basic fares of carriers, serve to make overall ticket prices devastatingly expensive for passengers. Analysis in the aforementioned CDB study revealed that on average, TFCs added 54 per cent (40 per cent from taxes and 14 per cent from charges) to the cost of a LIAT (Leeward Islands Air Transport) one-way ticket in 2016. TFCs constitute similar proportions of fares for Caribbean Airlines (CAL) and other regional airlines,” DaSouza said.

He pointed to the example of a recent CAL promotion to mark its inaugural direct flight from Jamaica to Barbados, which advertised a fare of US$100 round trip.

“However, when TFCs were added to this fare, the total cost of travel increased by US$154 to US$$254. In this case, TFCs amounted to more than a 150 per cent increase in base fare.”

The letter included a breakdown of the different taxes imposed by Caricom governments, compiled from airline websites.

In the case of St Vincent and the Grenadines, the data shows that air passengers have to pay an airport charge of US$40 and five per cent on their fare when Argyle International Airport is the airport of origin.

But in other jurisdictions, air passengers pay even more in taxes, as is the case in St Lucia, for example.

Castries charges an airport development fee of US$35, an airport service charge of US$25, a security charge of US$4.82 — which is 7.5 per cent of the fare when St Lucia is the origin airport, a US$5 passenger facilitation charge for arriving passengers only, and US$0.37 for a facilitation charge for arriving passengers.

DaSouza said in his letter that there is no denying that airports are expensive.

“Consequently, there is almost an expectation that nations implement measures to extract revenue from passengers who utilise airports across the region to contribute not only to their operation, but also to fund aspects of government budgets.”

He said that for his group, the questions are how much TFCs can authorities impose on the traveller before negative overall outcomes begin to accrue.

“Specifically, how much TFCs can Caricom governments extract from intra-regional travellers before the region begins to be negatively impacted by the lower passenger volumes?” he said.

DaSouza said his group believes that the region is at “a critical juncture, where overtaxation while meeting airport operational costs is compromising regional development and economic integration for the worse”.

He said that the TFC regime which is applied to travel originating from and destined for outside of Caricom is not the focus.

“We are not asking governments to disrupt this income stream. Instead, our efforts are concentrated on the lowering of TFCs on travel between Caricom states…

“Rather, what we espouse is based on principles enshrined in the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas, signed by regional leaders optimistic about the manifestation of regional advancement through genuine, functional cooperation. Principles of collective responsibility and shared destiny, principles of reduced insularity and myopia built on the realisation that by depending more on each other, we can depend less on non-Caricom states for our social and economic progress.”

He said that numerous studies have used price elasticity of demand (PED), which measures the responsiveness of demand to changes in price, to predict that if governments were to reduce TFCs, intra-regional Caribbean travel would increase significantly.

He said Amsterdam Economics, in its study, Economic benefits of reducing aviation taxes in Latin America and the Caribbean, concluded that removing aviation taxes and fees would drive efficiency and connectivity growth to the benefit of both the consumer and the wider economy.

Moreover, CDB analysis suggests that there will be short-run and (larger) long-run boosts to the GDP of countries that reduce TFCs. The higher the magnitude of the PED, the greater the increase in GDP, and the more likely there will be a positive net financial impact, where additional tax revenue generated by increasing economic activity would rival TFC revenue foregone.

“In other words, the increase in travel will likely see governments collect other tax revenue similar to the amount lost by reducing TFCs. This would manifest in the form of revenue increases from taxes already in existence in the economy over time [for example sales tax/VAT],” DaSouza said.

“Instead, Caricom governments have effectively turned regional airlines into major tax collectors, and in doing so, pushed the cost of travel beyond the reach of many Caribbean citizens.

“We therefore call on Caricom governments to re-evaluate the current TFC regime on intra-regional travel. Overtaxing regional travel is counter-productive to regional connectivity and the growth and productivity of our economies,” DaSouza wrote to Gonsalves.

Now you can read the Jamaica Observer ePaper anytime, anywhere. The Jamaica Observer ePaper is available to you at home or at work, and is the same edition as the printed copy available at http://bit.ly/epaperlive

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Police kill four rape-murder suspects

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SHADNAGAR, India (AFP) — Indian police yesterday shot dead four gang-rape and murder suspects, prompting celebrations but also accusations that they were extrajudicial executions.

The men, who had been in custody for a week over the latest rape case to shock India, were shot in the early hours during a re-enactment of the crime organised by police in Shadnagar, outside the southern city of Hyderabad.

“The police brought the accused to the crime spot as part of the investigation. The accused then started attacking the police with stones and sticks and then snatched the weapons and started firing,” Police Commissioner VC Sajjanar said.

“The police warned them and asked them to surrender, but they continued to fire. Then we opened fire and they were killed in the encounter,” he told reporters at the scene, adding that the men had confessed to the crime during interrogation.

Television images showed the shoeless bodies of the suspects still lying in an open field yesterday afternoon, with guns in the hands of two of them.

The four men were accused of gang-raping and murdering a 27-year-old veterinary doctor before, setting fire to her body underneath an isolated bridge late on November 27.

Like in the infamous 2012 rape and murder of a woman on a Delhi bus, the case sparked demonstrations and calls for swift and tough justice.

Shortly after their arrest hundreds of protesters also tried to storm the police station where they were held.

At one demonstration in Delhi, some women wielded swords while one lawmaker called for the men to be “lynched”, and another for rapists to be castrated.

Police are often accused of using extrajudicial killings to bypass the legal process, to cover up botched investigations, or to pacify public anger — but a huge backlog of cases in the slow Indian criminal justice means that many rape victims wait years for justice.

Several hundred people flocked to the scene of the men’s deaths yesterday, setting off firecrackers to celebrate and showering police with flower petals, hoisting them on their shoulders.

“I am happy the four accused have been killed in an encounter. This incident will set an example. I thank the police and media for their support,” the victim’s sister told a local television station.

Women distributed sweets and tied Hindu ritual threads on the wrists of policemen to thank them.

Further celebrations were held elsewhere in the country, including in the western state of Gujarat.

Many social media users, including politicians, celebrities and athletes, hailed the Telangana State police.

“Great work #hyderabadpolice ..we salute u,” top women’s badminton player Saina Nehwal tweeted, while fellow badminton star PV Sindhu wrote that “Justice has been served!”

Cricketer Harbhajan Singh congratulated police and the State government for “showing this is how it is done. No one should dare doing something like this again in future”.

And Rajyavardhan Rathore, a former minister and current Member of Parliament from Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s party wrote on Twitter: “Let all know this is the country where good will always prevail over evil.”

But lawyer and activist Vrinda Grover told AFP the killings were “absolutely unacceptable”.

“Instead of investigation and prosecution the State is committing murders to distract the public and avoid accountability,” she said.

India’s former federal minister for women and child development, Maneka Gandhi termed the incident “dangerous”.

“They would have anyway got hanging for their heinous crime, but you can’t just pick up guns and kill people because you want to. Because law is tardy, you can’t kill people,” Gandhi told reporters.

“To appease public rage over State failures against sexual assault, Indian authorities commit another violation,” tweeted Meenakshi Ganguly from Human Rights Watch.

Amnesty International India said the “alleged extrajudicial execution” raised disturbing questions and called for an independent investigation.

“In a modern and rights-respecting society, using extrajudicial executions to offer justice to victims of rape is not only unconstitutional but circumvents the Indian legal system, and sets a grossly wrong precedent,” Amnesty said in a statement.

Police said a post-mortem was completed yesterday on the bodies of the four suspects. At the same time, the State high court directed that a video of the procedure be delivered to a principal district judge and that the bodies be preserved until Monday evening, the newswire said.

Now you can read the Jamaica Observer ePaper anytime, anywhere. The Jamaica Observer ePaper is available to you at home or at work, and is the same edition as the printed copy available at http://bit.ly/epaperlive

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PM Skerrit holds on to position in Dominica polls

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PM Skerrit holds on to position in Dominica polls

Saturday, December 07, 2019

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ROSEAU, Dominica (CMC) — The ruling Dominica Labour Party (DLP) was last night on track for a major victory in the general election here, as it led in 18 of the 21 seats where results have been announced by the Electoral Commission.

Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit, who was seeking an unprecedented fourth-consecutive term as head of a Government here, had earlier predicted a “landslide” for his ruling party that itself is seeking to win five-consecutive general elections here.

In the 2014 General Election, the DLP defeated the main Opposition by a 15-6 margin for control of the 21-member legislature.

According to the preliminary results, the United Workers Party (UWP) was maintaining a healthy lead in its strongholds of the northern villages of Marigot and Salisbury, which in the latter days of the campaign had been the scene of roadblocks and the burning of tyres and debris as the supporters called on the Government to implement electoral reform ahead of the polls.

Prime Minister Skerrit, who has been the parliamentary representative for Vielle Case, north of here since 2000, was leading comfortably in his seat while his wife, Melissa Skerrit, who is making an entry into elective politics, was also leading newcomer Glenroy Cuffy on Roseau Central constituency.

Now you can read the Jamaica Observer ePaper anytime, anywhere. The Jamaica Observer ePaper is available to you at home or at work, and is the same edition as the printed copy available at http://bit.ly/epaperlive

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Number of Caribbean children displaced by storms up sixfold in past five years

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Number of Caribbean children displaced by storms up sixfold in past five years

Saturday, December 07, 2019

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UNITED NATIONS (CMC) – A new report by the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) says the number of Caribbean children displaced by storms has risen approximately sixfold in the past five years.

The report, released yesterday, says catastrophic tropical cyclones and hurricanes uprooted an estimated 761,000 children in the region between 2014 and 2018, which also was the hottest five-year period on record.

The preceding five-year period, 2009 to 2013, saw some 175,000 Caribbean youngsters displaced, the report says.

“This report is a stark reminder that the climate crisis is a child rights crisis,” said UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore.

“Children in storm-and flood-prone nations around the world are among the most vulnerable to having their lives and rights upended,” she added. “They are already feeling the impacts of climate change, so governments and the international community should act now to mitigate its most devastating consequences.”

The UNICEF report notes that the Caribbean was slammed by a series of catastrophic tropical cyclones or hurricanes between 2016 and 2018, including four Category 5 storms.

The agency said it has been providing lifesaving assistance for children and families across the Caribbean affected by the 2017 Atlantic hurricane season.

More than 400,000 children were displaced that year alone, the report says.

The report, ‘Children Uprooted in the Caribbean: How stronger hurricanes linked to a changing climate are driving child displacement’, warns that without urgent climate action, displacement levels are likely to remain high in the coming decades.

UNICEF has called on Caribbean governments to put children at the heart of climate change strategies and response plans, and to protect them from its impacts.

The United Nations agency also urged regional authorities to provide displaced children with protection and access to education, health care and other essential services, among other recommendations.

Now you can read the Jamaica Observer ePaper anytime, anywhere. The Jamaica Observer ePaper is available to you at home or at work, and is the same edition as the printed copy available at http://bit.ly/epaperlive

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