No moves were taken to collect rents from concessionaires at the Piarco International Airport during the People's National Movement (PNM) administration, according to Gerald Hadeed, chairman of the Airports Authority of Trinidad and Tobago (AATT).
Speaking to the Express by phone yesterday Hadeed confirmed that almost all of the concessionaires were in debt and the Airports Authority board is moving to ensure that monies are collected. He described the former administration's failure to collect rent monies as a "free for all".
The Express obtained a copy of the Airports Authority collection report as of January 31, 2012 which stated that a total of $154,288,745 was owed by all tenants, including food providers, duty free shops, car rental services and airlines.
Of this figure, Caribbean Airlines Ltd (CAL) owes some $60 million.
The AATT report listed all the concessionaires and the amount of monies owed as of January 2012.
Among the tenants who accumulated significant debts are Stechers's Ltd, Prestige Holdings, Total Local Promotions, Tee Wee Ltd, Royal Castle Ltd.
According to the report, although CAL is the main airline with the highest debt, other airlines such as LIAT, Continental Airlines, Virgin Atlantic Airlines and Redjet are also in debt.
Hadeed told the Express that all the accounts were analysed and letters were sent to all concessionaires.
Hadeed disclosed that the leases for all tenants have expired and one of the avenues the AATT will be seeking to reclaim monies is by giving an ultimatum that all debts must be cleared before a new lease is given.
"If they don't pay, they don't stay," said Hadeed as he questioned why was rents allowed to accumulate to such exorbitant amounts.
"I don't know how they actually ran the Airports Authority, it appeared to me there was a free-for-all and this happens when you put party hacks in management systems," said Hadeed.
He said the new board, which was appointed in January this year is working to put some integrity in the system and "quite a bit" of the monies owed have been recovered to date.
Hadeed said this week he will be meeting the property manager and the general manager of finance to work out new leases and to determine whether the same rates will be maintained or if they will be increased.
The board, said Hadeed, is working to ensure that the deficit that currently exists at the airport is reduced.
Contacted yesterday for comment, Transport Minister Devant Maharaj said there was a $46 million deficit in the cost for operations at the Piarco International Airport last year.
Questioned on the large amounts of concessionaires' debts, Maharaj said, "This is not new. I encountered the very same situation at the Public Transport Service Corporation when I assumed position of chairman. There was an unacceptable accumulation of debt and it is the same story with the Airports Authority. It really begs the question what was in the minds of the last administration."
Maharaj said in some cases, concessionaires closed shop and some airlines went bankrupt and left a huge debt at the AATT.
He said there was very little chance of recovering these monies.
Maharaj added that it was unfair for taxpayers to be funding the operational cost at the airport as businesses defaulted in their payments.