By Kenton X. Chance
BASSETERRE, St. Kitts — Prime Minister of St. Vincent and the Grenadines Ralph Gonsalves is lobbying his Kittian and Lucian counterparts to invest in cash-strapped regional airline, LIAT.
He has invited Prime Ministers Timothy Harris and Kenny Anthony to a meeting of LIAT shareholders in Barbados on Friday.
The major shareholders of LIAT are the governments of Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Dominica and St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
Gonsalves told I-Witness News that Harris has accepted the invitation to attend the meeting, but Anthony is yet to indicate if he would available be available to attend.
“I am quite sure that if he is available he would come, because from our discussions, he is showing a great interest in getting involved as an equity partner, certainly to provide support within LIAT as we go forward with reforming LIAT, with strengthening.”
Gonsalves said that the shareholders government have already done a tremendous amount of work in reforming the airline, which has completed the upgrade of its fleet from Dash-8 to ATR aircraft.
He, however, admitted that the process of the re-fleeting – which resulted in the “disastrous summer” of long delays in 2013 — was not done as well as it should have been done.
“But we have gone past that. We have an application for additional resources before the Caribbean Development Bank. So, there are very positive things, which are happening for us to go forward,” he said in an interview on the sidelines of the 45th meeting of the Board of Directors of the bank, held here Wednesday and Thursday.
“All we have to do now is to make the relevant decisions and for everybody to be committed to this enterprise of improving the airline business the air transport business in the whole Caribbean, and in particular in the eastern and southern Caribbean,” said Gonsalves.
Friday’s meeting comes as Gonsalves said that the possibility of merger of LIAT and the Trinidad and Tobago owned Caribbean Airlines (CAL) is something that “has to be explored … and to see where the synergies are…
“But the time has come that we have to cross a chasm in something more than baby steps. We have to take a jump and that obviously would have to await the outcome of the elections in Trinidad and Tobago because I don’t expect a government between now and September or whatever the time period for the general election will be preoccupied with other things, but the discussion can start and we can have some idea as to how we are going forward” he said.
During the meeting, there was also a discussion on regional air transport, in which there was the emergence of two main views that LIAT be operated as any regular business, and that in addition to being a business, it performs an important economic function to the region.