Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves has made it clear that he is not fed up of regional carrier LIAT, which has asked eight Caribbean governments to contribute US$5.4 million in emergency financing to help it out of its most recent crisis.
The airline’s four main shareholder governments — Barbados, Antigua and Barbuda, St. Vincent and the Grenadines and Dominica – have adopted what is called “the Restructuring Option”, which will require US$152 million in funding.
Speaking in Parliament on Monday, Gonsalves said there are people who are in love with problems or are stuffed with learned helplessness.
“I happen to be in love with solutions. Air transport in the region is in a state of flux and change. We must not be dinosaur-like and reject adaptations and alterations, and inertia in the face of challenges is a menace to progress.”
He said that in all of the discussions he has avoided polemic posturing.
“People have called me, all about, the journalist want a story. Well, there are enough people talking out of turn,” Gonsalves said.
He was speaking in apparent reference to his earlier comments about public statements by some persons who attended last month’s CARICOM meeting, after they were briefed about LIAT’s latest challenges.
Gonsalves said the comments had damaged LIAT’s reputation.
“I wanted a meeting of the shareholders, because a CARICOM meeting or an OECS meeting is a meeting for information to be provided,” Gonsalves said about his silence, until Monday, on the issue.
“Good corporate governance demands that the decisions are taken in LIAT even though you would give information to your colleagues and you would give information, because of the regional nature of this service, to the OECS Authority and also to CARICOM, but we have to observe good corporate governance. And I am only talking after we have gone through that particular structure,” Gonsalves said.
“One prime minister has said even Ralph is fed up with LIAT. I am not,” he said, apparently referring to comments that Prime Minister of Grenada Keith Mitchell had made in 2016 when the airline was facing another crisis.
The comments re-emerged after the developments over the past few weeks, when Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago, Keith Rowley, immediately on returning home from the CARICOM meeting, told the media that LIAT only had enough cash to last 10 days.
“I’m fed up with some governments who fail and or refuse to contribute to the funding of this vital regional service. I am fed up, too, with some other stakeholders who cling to ‘legacies’, whether at the workplace, in management or procurement.
“I helped to save LIAT and regional air transportation from Allan Stanford when others were in bed fully with him. So I am not fed up with LIAT. But further significant changes in and of it are on the immediate horizon.”
Gonsalves told lawmakers that there are three possible paths for LIAT: an orderly dissolution and bankruptcy; a disorderly dissolution and disruptive bankruptcy; or a sensible restructuring.
He said that SVG is advocating a sensible restructuring and seeking to implement it along with the other shareholders.
“But stakeholders must step up to the plate in this exercise,” Gonsalves said.
He urged that CARICOM leaders be “more circumspect in addressing the business of a company which has its own structure of corporate governance.
“Further unwise outbursts would scare LIAT’s lessors, disturb the air transport regulators, create uncertainty among staff and alarm the public, contribute to disorderliness in the company, agitate creditors to hustle for payment of debts owed to them by LIAT, prompt passengers to seek refunds, and push air travellers to seek other travel options or cancel travel altogether,” Gonsalves said.
“Let us all be mature in addressing a serious challenge before us,” Gonsalves further said, adding that he would make public the details of the minimum revenue guarantee agreements with LIAT’s destinations when they are finalised.
“I shall provide, too, further relevant updates,” Gonsalves said.