The challenges in sharing my views publicly is recognizing the reality of our country and the sad reality is that almost everything one says will be interpreted in a political context as either supportive or against one of the two major political parties.
The topic today is LIAT. I want to acknowledge from the outset that I am not an expert in aviation. I am however, an expert in accounting, finance and business management and I have some, albeit limited, experience in the airline business.
I believe the time is more than overdue for an honest conversation about LIAT. It’s time to remove the discussion from the realm of emotion, fantasy and regional pride. It’s time to talk of the future of regional air transport and what role, if any, governments and LIAT should play.
I want to start a realistic debate involving facts and reality. So lets start by acknowledging some facts.
LIAT has been an economic basket case for the region and its taxpaying supporters.
LIAT has been a disaster in providing reliable service over numerous years.
LIAT has managed to lose huge sums of money despite having been in a monopoly position for long periods of time. That’s right … A commercial monopoly that loses money!!!!!!
Regional governments have poured millions of dollars into the disaster known as LIAT over at least the last 25 years … Think of how useful those millions of dollars could have been had they been invested in health or education or anything else that could benefit the people of these small island nations.
The latest problems with LIAT provide us with yet another opportunity to acknowledge the serious issues with LIAT and to think of realistic options. To stop throwing good money after bad. The latest issues resolve around the introduction of a new fleet to replace the Dash 8 aircraft. We have all heard the latest horror stories. The reality is far worse than the stories. LIAT is creating untold damage to the reputation of our region. They are hurting our economies. They are damaging our tourism product.
The current LIAT issues are only the latest in a long list of serious problems.
LIAT has been operated under numerous regional governments over the years. So we can’t say LIAT as it currently operates is a socialist or capitalist or any “ist” enterprise. Nor are its current operations reflective of any particular philosophy.
Numerous prime ministers have tried their hands at “fixing” LIAT. Every single one has failed!!! They have failed because they have not dealt with the central problem. It’s hard to acknowledge a problem when you are the problem! Government involvement is THE problem in LIAT.
So … if I am right and government is the problem, who has the solution? Well … I am here on this show because I have the solution. It’s not my solution, nor is it terribly original but I am here to put forward THE solution! After I give my opinions, I look forward to being challenged. Hopefully it’s my ideas and positions that get challenged. I would like the opponents of my positions to debate my positions and to resist the temptations to resort to personal attacks. Even better, lets have a debate, a face-to-face debate. Preferably on either TV or radio.
Before I lay out my solution, lets have a brief review of some of the reasons and excuses that we have heard over the years for LIAT’s persistent and never-ending failures. These reasons include:
1. The Board is the problem … Well we have changed the Board and its members numerous times, to no avail.
2. Management is the problem … well we have changed management again and again and guess what … unmitigated failure continues.
3. The structure is the problem … So we changed that to and did we see success? Nope.
4. Ah, the planes are old and expensive and they are the problem! Well, we changed from Avro 748’s to Dash 8’s and now we are changing to ATR’s! Anyone want to bet on the likelihood of this being successful in saving LIAT? I could go on with more reasons but I think you get the idea.
Time for the solution! It’s very simple and it’s two-fold. The first critical thing is for the governments of the region to adopt an “open skies” policy. The second critical thing is that governments must either privatise LIAT or kill LIAT. This twin action, open skies and getting rid of or privatizing LIAT are inseparable. Doing one without the other will result in guaranteed failure.
There is a role for government. That role is in regulation for safety and to promote competition.
An open skies policy is one that calls for the liberalization of the rules and regulations of the aviation industry. This will create a free market for the airline industry and will promote competition. This policy must be adopted at the regional and preferably CARICOM level. Given the limited success of CARICOM, it’s fair to say that the likelihood of them adopting an open skies policy is near zero. UNLESS you the people demand it!
So there is my simple, elegant solution. NOW it’s time for the arguments and specifics. I anticipate hearing all the reasons as to why my solution will not work, why it can’t work in the Caribbean. What I smell is fear. Fear of the unknown and comfort in the current situation. Governments like being in control. They control LIAT to our, the traveling publics, detriment. The reality is that governments should NOT be running airlines. LIAT loses money in a monopoly situation. No competition … and still they lose huge amounts of money.
My comments in this programme are designed to start the debate. To trigger argument and discussion. In my next program we will start to deal with the arguments. We will counter the old and ancient and discredited argument that is based on fear. That argument is that we won’t have air transport if LIAT is killed. Or that air transport will be too expensive for most people to travel (as though its cheap now?).
I ask you, the viewer, the young person and some, like me, that are not so young for only one thing. That is to have an open, thoughtful and questioning mind. Listen to my arguments, my positions, my reasons and my evidence. Evaluate my positions against my opponents and come to your own conclusion about which position is best for our future.
It is my hope that someone will step forward to have a one-on-one debate with me about LIAT. We have the “Unrendered” program here on IKTV and I am sure my friend Tony Regisford will be happy to host our debate.
My name is Stephen Joachim. Thanks for viewing “To The Point” and I will continue this in the near future. Please feel free to share your views with me on Twitter on @Stephenj5 or via email at [email protected]
Stephen Joachim(This opinion was first broadcast on IKTV in St. Vincent and the Grenadines on Aug. 14, 2013)
The views expressed herein are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the opinions or editorial position of iWitness News. Opinion pieces can be submitted to [email protected].