KINGSTOWN, St. Vincent – The Dr. Kenny Anthony government in St. Lucia has been called upon to speed up its decision on whether it will this year invest in regional airline LIAT, which lost an aircraft, a hangar, and two office blocks in a fire in Antigua, Sunday night.
LIAT shareholder prime minister, Dr. Ralph Gonsalves of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, said at the post Organisation of Eastern Caribbean Stats (OECS) Authority Meeting press conference on Tuesday that he had asked Antony to fast-track the decision even as Dominica said it will next week give half of what it intends to invest in LIAT.
The Roosevelt Skeritt government in Roseau, along with Castries, had said in January that they would consider investing in LIAT this year, Gonsalves told Vincentian lawmakers during his budget presentation that month.
Gonsalves said that the fire would impact the OECS “from the standpoint that LIAT is the airline which serves the region and [the OECS] Economic Union.” He noted that the island-hopping airline makes 1000 flights to 21 countries each week, including to members and associate members nations of the OECS.
“And when you have a plane burnt and you have an engine burnt, and you have tools and a hangar, you are talking about millions and millions of dollars,” Gonsalves said.
LIAT’s Chief Executive Officer, Brian Challenger, told the Caribbean Media Corporation (CMC) Tuesday night he was expecting by the end of the week a report on the extent of damage and loss caused by the fire.
“We are hoping that within a day or two we will have findings,” Challenger said as investigation into the blaze that destroyed the airlines oldest plane continued.
Challenger did not comment on suspicions of sabotage and told CMC, “It’s yet too early for us to come to any sort of conclusion so that we will wait the professional assessment and then we will be in a better position to respond in a more definitive way.”
But Gonsalves said that the loss of the aircraft would cause disruptions in LIAT’s service.
As of Wednesday, LIAT did not report any disruption in its passenger service but its Corporate Communications Manager, Desmond Brown, said Tuesday that Internet tracking for its cargo service, Quikpak, was disrupted.
Gonsalves noted that the incident came even as shareholder governments, which also comprise Barbados, and Antigua and Barbuda, mull and were on the verge of a decision on the type of aircrafts that should be used for fleet renewal and expansion.
“… we have to accelerate our work in this regard. But there is one positive thing, which came out. … Without asking [Prime Minister] Roosevelt Skeritt of Dominica, he came to me, he said, ‘Comrade, I know the fire put you all a little bit in hole. I had said in January I would come this year to be an equity partner.’ He said, ‘Next week you are getting the first half of what I intend to put in from Dominica’,” Gonsalves said in recounting his conversation with Skeritt.
“I am not telling you the amount. When it comes, I will announce it but it is a substantial sum of money,” he, however, said.
“Of course I call my friend Kenny Anthony to speed up the decision making because he had said they had that under review,” Gonsalves said in relation to the St. Lucian head of government.
“And of course, I harass all the members of the OECS all the time about this thing, including [St. Kitts and Nevis’ Prime Minister Dr.] Denzel [Douglas]. But persons come forward at the time they can come forward in the circumstances in which they can come forward and I understand that and we are all in this together,” he further said.