Written by 9:00 pm Travel

St. Vincent PM Ralph Gonsalves has ‘a plan in mind’ for regional air travel

SOURCE: CMC — St. Vincent and the Grenadines Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves, who earlier this week spoke of the challenges he faced as he was preparing for a lot of overseas trips, including travel through the Caribbean, now says he has a “plan in mind” for regional air travel.

While he didn’t disclose the plan to listeners of a radio program here, Gonsalves detailed the history of the failed regional carrier LIAT, an entity he served as chairman of for the shareholder governments.

The airline is owned by the governments of Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Dominica, and St Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG). Antigua and Barbuda Prime Minister Gaston Browne said previously that a call had been taken that might allow Barbados and SVG to show over their shares in LIAT to St. John’s for one EC dollar (One EC dollar=US$0.37 cents).

Gonsalves told radio listeners that he faced much opposition from regional governments and their populations, a lot of which, he said, at the moment are calling for the revival of the airline.

“But I offer you the history and now, they are saying, ‘Ralph, do something about it. And can do something about it. I even have a plan in mind. I even have to do something about it. But I inform you, it’s tougher to start out up than to have made the reform.”

Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves said that air transportation within the region is now “an actual mess”, and that he had soldiered on for 20 years, having come to the office, in March 2001, at a time when governments across the region “were bowing and scraping before Allan Stanford”, the Texan businessman and founding father of the failed airline, Caribbean Star, who was later jailed for all times in the US for operating a Ponzi scheme..

Prime Minister Gonsalves said he stood as much as Stanford, adding he had maintained that the Texan mustn’t control the region’s skies, despite the fact that he had relocated to Antigua.

He noted that at one time, Kingstown was the main shareholder in LIAT, until the US$65 million re-fleeting, which was done under the Aristotelian principle of equity amongst equals, and proportionality amongst unequal’s.

After the re-fleeting, the shareholding of Barbados and Antigua increased relative to St. Vincent’s.

“But still, I used to be chairman and no one wanted anybody else to be chairman because I used to be LIAT’s champion during all that point. During all that point, you realize all of the licks I got,” he said, adding this case continued as recently as April 2020 when opposition lawmakers here criticized him for budgeting a million US dollars for the financially troubled LIAT because the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic began to hit the region with countries shutting down their borders.

“And across the country, people who find themselves now talking in favor of LIAT, they join the bandwagon. But I didn’t mind all that because I knew it was the right policy,” Gonsalves said, noting that one in all the primary regional governments in LIAT withdrew, saying it couldn’t invest any more cash within the airline, withdrawing also the a million US dollar investment.

Gonsalves said that at the identical time he pleaded with LIAT staff and even attended several meetings in Antigua on the difficulty.

“And anytime they pull a strike or a go-slow, it costs EC$750,000, a million, EC$1.5 million for day by day. I just couldn’t understand how individuals who working in the corporate would wish to do that and each time they coming saying is management problem.”

He said there have been management issues, but he told staff that their frequent strikes amounted to “cutting down your individual breadfruit tree.

“And the 2 things, the dearth of appetite by other governments to place money in and the behaviour of some pilots, some engineers, some flight attendants, “contributed to the airline’s financial troubles, Ralph Gonsalves said, noting that when a flight attendant called in sick on the last minute, this threw the airline’s schedule in chaos.

“Remember I at all times said that LIAT, a regional air transport carrier, at best is a marginal financial proposition nevertheless it is an important economic and social matter of the very best importance.

“That was what I stated on a regular basis: That regional air transportation is a public good and that governments served by LIAT should put as a part of their budget on an annual basis so the sum of cash to assist this necessary carrier.”

He said that St. Lucia, whether under the St. Lucia Labour Party (SLP) or United Employees Party government, was “actively against LIAT” and other countries said that the headquarters needed to be moved from Antigua.

“I said, ‘but that’s not something which is realistic now let’s work together and see if we are able to make changes,” he said, adding that Dominica eventually got here on board “in a small way” and Grenada, under Prime Minister Dr. Keith Mitchell, put in a small little bit of money “towards the top.

“But there have been no takers. Trinidad, after [Prime Minister] Patrick Manning, all of the governments said, no, they’re not doing anything with that. And that’s what happened.”

He said a former pilot, whom he described as “Big Jim….a Barbadian white man who lives in Canada”, had “every solution.

“He wrote me an entire set of things. I ain’t trouble with him. Malign everybody on the web. Business people of Dominica, a fella, he wrote an entire set of things, he meet me on the plane. I had a journey once and I used to be just wishing for this flight to be done. He just harass me. My mother bring me up with manners so I just listen but within me, I used to be boiling due to his ignorance about air transportation and he lectured me no end.”

Gonsalves said that journalists in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Grenada and other places where he appeared on media programs and “peculiar people” ask why he was putting a lot money into LIAT.

“I am going by an airport, LIAT is half an hour late or something, they’ve some problems. Is a scene they created in each airport within the Caribbean because I used to be recognized as Mr. LIAT.

“But I took all of the slings and arrows because I knew that what I used to be doing was right. But towards the top, the failure or refusal of other governments to are available and provides support and the interior problems with some pilots, flight attendants, some engineers, I just had to provide up.”

Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves said the phrase ‘” leave it to the private sector” was also a mantra.

“I said, but private sector entities got here and went like Miss Janie fire.’ I gave her the instance, Carib Express, EC Express, BWEE Express, other individual carriers?”

Gonsalves said that Trinidad’s Caribbean Airlines (CAL) services some destinations but not very often.

“We had nearly 40 flights and within the busy season greater than 40 flights every week (to St. Vincent) with LIAT,” he added.

Earlier this yr, Prime Minister Browne appealed to Caribbean trade unions to re-think their positions regarding the newest offer made to laid-off employees of the airline.

The Antigua and Barbuda government said it was providing two million dollars “to fulfill partial satisfaction of the money component of the compassionate pay-out” to former local employees of the regional airline, LIAT.

On Tuesday, former LIAT employees based in Barbados, complaining of being “dissatisfied and frustrated” by the best way they’ve been treated over the past two years by Caribbean governments, sent a petition to Prime Minister Mia Mottley calling for the payment of severance owed to them.

“We’ve waited and pleaded on deaf ears for the shareholder Governments to do the appropriate thing by seeing that we receive monies owed. Our financial situation is growing extremely dire by the minute,” the previous LIAT employees said of their letter to the Prime Minister.

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