The views expressed herein are those of the writer and do not represent the opinions or editorial position of I-Witness News. Opinion pieces can be submitted to [email protected]

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].

4 replies on “Honest conversation about LIAT overdue”

  1. Patrick Ferrari says:

    I Patrick Ferrari challenge Stephen Joachim on his claim that he has the solution to Liat.

    Just before saying he has the solution, he said, “government is the problem.” He’s right and I challenge him to solve that.

    Stephen said that, “governments should NOT be running airlines.” Youthman, governments should not be running any business … period. You cannot run a business successfully unless you hurt when you get it wrong. If you are immune to the consequences of your actions then it does not matter how wrong you get it. And in Liat’s case, how long you get it wrong.

    Prime Ministers do not understand business (usually) and I’ll give you a good example. One of Liat’s financing Prime Ministers is promoting an inter-island ferry service but bemoaning the fact that private investors are not coming forward. The Prime Minister said a ferry service would be “a viable business opportunity …” These people walk on air. They don’t open doors and surround themselves with people who tell them how great they are, and how always right they are. No one questions what they say, least of all themselves. They get to believing that they are infallible or something close to it.

    The Prime Minister said that; one, a ferry service is viable; and two, the business sector is not coming forward. He has not stop to think; maybe the business sector is not coming forward because a ferry service is not viable.

    If a ferry service is viable then he should sell Liat and buy a ferry service … and young Joachim – and thousands of taxpayers – would be happy. And in a few years – not many mind you – we would know that governments should not be running ferries.

  2. STEPHEN, thank you for your respected input on this subject. I have written much in the past about LIAT. I think you are spot on in suggesting that LIAT should not be owned by governments.

    One of the biggest problems with LIAT being profitable is that the portion of each ticket that is sold is very small in the case of LIAT. All the governments have piled on the taxes over the years which is incorporated into the ticket. With landing fees and other fees that LIAT also have to pay, they cannot be viable unless they hike the prices or the respective governments drastically reduce there imposed taxes.

    Governments like Barbados and Saint Lucia are using the LIAT ticket taxes as a cash cow. They know that anyone who has to travel between the islands for urgent family reasons, or business or because they can afford whatever price is applied, will keep on flying LIAT. They also know that by putting the price of tickets at a certain price and level their captive tourists are less likely to leave their island and spend a few days elsewhere, spending money in places such as SVG.

    Instead of reducing ticket taxes, SVG has happily put 15 to 20 million dollars into LIAT every year. If all the islands really want air travel between the islands they will reduce the ticket tax’s, even abolish them completely. Or accept that LIAT cannot make a profit, will always have to be subsidised, and just keep paying the bailout money every year.

    I would suggest privatisation and competition, halving of the current ticket and departure tax’s. Open sky policy is a must.

    I remember when Caribbean Star were flying, they started a scheme whereby they guaranteed departure and arrival times within 30 minutes. They gave a promise and even refunded what was paid for the ticket if they failed. What was interesting was that LIAT managed to do the same. Aircraft flew even when they had only a handful of passengers. I believe much of the lateness of LIAT is because they are using a a policy known in the airline business as consolidation. Whereby if there are only a few passengers, they announce a problem with the aircraft and put everyone on the next flight. As for the baggage delays, I believe that is caused by the shipping of cargo whilst leaving behind the bags for the next flight. I have seen great piles of box’s of fruit, vegetables and flowers being loaded on LIAT. Being perishable items, you can be sure LIAT will be on a penalty if they do not ship them promptly, and if they lose there connecting flights to NY or London, LIAT will be in more serious trouble.

  3. Steve Huggins says:

    YOU really to tell me THAT RALPH GONSALVES, too, TRIED HIS HANDS AT “fixing” LIAT,
    AND UTTERLY FAILED?

    Ralph, the Castroite Marxist-Leninist TOTALLY FAILED in his stint AT ‘FIXING’ LIAT ????

    Stephen, dem school pickme asking if yuh nah ‘fraid that SUZIE WANG go SUE you?

    Yuh MEAN to say that RALPH is the PROBLEM ?

    Well, tell him nah — straight to ‘im face. FACE – TO – FACE WITH THE BOLD-FACED MARXIST-LENINIST.

    Yuh saying in SUM that PRIME MINISTER RALPH GONSALVES is THE PROBLEM ?

    Along with his ‘shareholder’ colleagues, and their economically blinded Governments/political administrations?

    Ralph patting heself on he shoulders, self-congratulating he-self and the rest ah the minions that he did/ doing so swell, BUT all the time THAT AND HIS POLITICAL AND IDEOLOGICAL MEDDLING in LIAT and other business IS the real PROBLEM ?

    Nah mek RED Ralph “ISOLATE” you as he called upon black people on an African diapora slave reparations issue to do with any Black people who interfered with his latest communist gambit to DISTRACT ATTENTION from his ECONOMIC INEPTNESS AND INCOMPETENCE and renew focus on an EXTERNAL ENEMY to keep the people OFF-GUARD and IN THE POLITICO-IDEOLOGICAL DARK.

    I conclude from your fine article above, Mr. Joachim, that RALPH GONSALVES AND HIS ADMINISTRATION, THEIR PROFERRED POLITICAL SOLUTIONS AND MACHINATIONS, and that/those of their supposedly allied shareholder Governments, CONSTITUTE THE TRUE LIAT PROBLEM.

    The solution then should be patently OBVIOUS.

    The ‘greatest debater’, Commie Ralph, aint answer that challenge to debate you, YET?
    After all, you already have TV STATION, PROGRAMME, AND HOST, all apparently well lined up? Or is Ralpie a snivelling,MIN opportunistic, duplicitous political coward ?

    Though, I am somewhat regretful that your specialist training in accounting, finance and business management clearly did not adequately prepare you to spot the philosophic and ideological underpinnings of the LIAT management and directing issue.
    You see, Ralphie abandoPned the purely economic stream and defected to political science, instead. He could not tolerate POSITIVE ECONOMIC PRINCIPLES, but relished the normative fictions of the ‘political’ – – – of the LENINIST VARIETY.

    This is the background of the guy attempting to meddling in the BUSINESS of LIAT.

    WHY should we then be surprised at this woeful economic blindness, and ridiculous lack of basic business sense?

    To agree with Communist Ralph, though, ALL OUR ECONOMIC IDEAS, PRINCIPLES, AND THEORIES start out FROM specific PHILOSOPHICAL AND IDEOLOGICAL beginnings.

    We are non-socialists, I hope. Most business-friendly persons are. Hence, our mostly clear-minded perspectives on business, and economics.

    Ralph Gonsalves is an old doctrinaire ideologue and proponent of UNSCIENTIFIC ‘scientific’ socialism, aka marxism-leninism, aka ‘international’ socialism, aka RUSSIAN ‘soviet’ COMMUNISM.

    Is it any wonder the foolish, destructive ‘economic policies’ and POLITICAL ‘business’ decisions that he REPEATEDLY makes with regard to LIAT and SVG?

    GARBAGE IN equals in all respects GARBAGE OUT.

    Incidentally, I was his student. He was the early teacher. I never cease to be shocked at the continued level of his political and ideological ignorance.

    Says the Student to the OLD Teacher ?!

    Message: TEK YOUR COMMUNISTIC HANDS off of LIAT’s BUSINESS.

    THEN, see it THRIVE.

    I appeal to you, Copycat Communist, PLEASE DON’T KILL LIAT.

    GIVE LIAT its INDEPENDENCE, too.

Comments are closed.