Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves said he has a plan for regional air travel.
It comes about a week after the Prime Minister of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines spoke about the challenges he faced while preparing for several overseas trips, including traveling through the Caribbean.
Although he did not reveal the plan to listeners of the local radio program, Gonçalves explained the history of the failed regional carrier LIAT, an entity that had served as chairman of the board of directors for shareholder governments.
The airline is owned by the governments of Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Dominica and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG). The Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda, Gaston Brown, said earlier that a decision had been made that would allow Barbados and SVG to hand over their stakes in LIAT to St. John’s for one EC dollar (1 EC dollar = 0.37 US cent).
Gonçalves told radio listeners that he has faced strong opposition from regional governments and their residents, many of which, he said, are calling for the airline’s revival.
“But I’m giving you the history and now they’re saying, Ralph, do something about it. And you’ll do something about it. I have a plan in mind. I have to do something about it. But I tell you it’s harder to get started than to do fix.”
Gonçalves said air transportation in the region was now a “real chaos,” and that he had been recruiting for two decades, after taking office, in March 2001, at a time when governments across the region were “bowing to Alan.” Stanford”, the Texas businessman and founder of the failed airline, Caribbean Star, who was later imprisoned for life in the United States for operating a Ponzi scheme..
The prime minister, Gonçalves, said he stood up to Stanford, adding that he emphasized that Texas should not dominate the skies, despite his move to Antigua.
He noted that at one point Kingstown was a major shareholder in LIAT, until its $65 million reoffer, which was made under the Aristotelian principle of equity between egalitarians, and proportionality among unequal.
After the demise, the proportion of ownership of Barbados and Antigua increased compared to Saint Vincent.
“But even so, I was the chairman of the board and nobody wanted anyone else to be chairman because I was the LIAT champ all that time. During all that time, you know all the licks I get,” he added, adding that this situation lasted as recently as April. 2020 When opposition MPs here criticized him for allocating US$1 million to LIAT’s financially distressed coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic began to hit the region as countries closed their borders.
“And all over the country, people who are now speaking out for LIAT are joining the bandwagon. One of LIAT’s major regional governments has pulled out, saying it can’t invest more money in the airline, has also pulled out the million dollar investment,” Gonçalves said, noting that one of LIAT’s major regional governments has pulled out, saying it can’t invest more money in the airline.
Gonçalves said that at the same time he appealed to LIAT staff and attended several meetings in Antigua on the issue.
“And any time they go on strike or slow down, it costs 750,000 EC dollars, 1 million EC dollars, 1.5 million EC dollars per day. I couldn’t understand how the people working for the company would want to do that and at all Once they come they say it’s a management problem.”
He said there were management problems, but told the staff that their frequent strikes were tantamount to “cutting down your bread tree.
The two things, the unwillingness of other governments to pump money and the behavior of some pilots, some engineers and some flight attendants, have contributed to the airline’s financial problems, Gonçalves said, noting that when the flight attendant called in a patient at the last minute, it led to chaos in the airline’s schedule.
“Always remember that LIAT, the regional air carrier, is at best a marginal financial proposition but a vital economic and social issue of paramount importance.
“This was what I’ve been saying all along: that regional air transport is a public good and that governments that LIAT serves should allocate as part of their budget on an annual basis, so the amount of money to help this important carrier.”
He said Saint Lucia, whether under the Saint Lucia Labor Party (SLP) or the ULP government, had been “active against LIAT” and other countries said the headquarters should be moved from Antigua.
“I said, ‘But that’s not a realistic thing now, let’s work together and see if we can make changes,'” he said, adding that Dominica eventually joined “in a small way” and Grenada, under Prime Minister Dr Keith Mitchell, putting a little money “near the end ..
“But there was no one to take. Trinidad yet [Prime Minister] Patrick Manning, all governments have said, no, they’re not doing anything about it. And that’s what happened.”
He said a former pilot, whom he called “Big Jim … a white Barbadian man living in Canada,” had “all the solutions.
“He wrote me a whole bunch of stuff. I don’t bother him. He hurts everyone on the internet. Dominica businessmen, fella, wrote a whole bunch of stuff, meet me on the plane. I took a trip once and was hoping this trip would end. He just annoys me.” My mother brought me up with morals so I only listen but inside me, I was boiled over from his ignorance of air transportation and he lectured me endlessly.”
Gonçalves said reporters in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Grenada and elsewhere he appeared on media shows and “regular people” were asking why he was spending so much money at LIAT.
“I go to the airport, LIAT is half an hour late or something, they have some problems. It’s a scene they make in every airport in the Caribbean because I’ve been recognized as Mr. LIAT.”
“But I took all the cranes and arrows because I knew what I was doing was right. But in the end, other governments failed or refused to come and provide support and internal problems with some pilots and flight attendants and some engineers, I had to give up.”
The prime minister, Gonçalves, said the phrase “leave it to the private sector” was also a mantra.
“I said, but private entities came and went like Miss Janie’s fire.” I gave the example, Carib Express, EC Express, BWEE Express, other individual carriers? “
Gonçalves said Trinidad Caribbean Airlines (CAL) serves some destinations but not many.
“We had nearly 40 flights and in the busy season more than 40 flights a week (to St. Vincent) with LIAT,” he added.
Earlier this year, Prime Minister Brown called on labor unions in the Caribbean to rethink their positions regarding the latest offer to laid-off workers at the airline.
The Antigua and Barbuda government said it would provide $2 million to “meet the partial satisfaction of the cash component of the empathic payment” for former local employees of the regional airline, LIAT.
On Tuesday, former LIAT employees based in Barbados, who have complained of “disappointment and frustration” with the way they have been treated over the past two years by Caribbean governments, sent a petition to Prime Minister Mia Motley demanding payment of the severance payments owed to them.
“We have waited and pleaded on deaf ears to our shareholder governments to do the right thing in seeing that we are receiving the money owed. The former LIAT workers said in their letter to the Prime Minister: