Chair of LIAT’s shareholder government, Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves says he is now focused on connectivity to and from St. Vincent and the Grenadines, as the airline prepares for liquidation.
“As far as St. Vincent and the Grenadines is concerned, I am very interested in making sure that we have — to make relevant connections, and connections, particularly Trinidad, Barbados, the Windward Islands, go right up to Antigua and I’d expect that in the northern part, there’d be aircraft operating out of Antigua to make some sort of connection,” Gonsalves said on WE FM on Sunday.
“It’s going to be problematic but fortunately, we have in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, two airlines. We have One Caribbean, which has served us well during this period,” he said, referring to two locally owned carriers that provide regional connections.
Gonsalves was speaking one day after chairing a meeting of LIAT’s main shareholder governments, which also include Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, and Dominica.
On Saturday, the Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda announced that LIAT is to be liquidated and a new airline formed.
Browne also made a case for the new airline to retain the “LIAT” name and for St. John’s to remain its headquarters.
But Gonsalves, in his comments on Saturday, was also focussed on severance pay for Vincentians employed by the airline, but remained non-committal, saying that Kingstown did not want to expose itself to claims from other LIAT creditors in SVG.
The prime minister noted that One Caribbean had two 30-seater SAABs and one 19-seater.
“So they have available 79 seats and then we want to see what SVG Air has at its disposal. I know they operate through Adelphi Air, four twin otters and they have other aircraft.”
Gonsalves, who has ministerial responsibility for civil aviation, noted that SVG Air’s twin otters carry 19 passengers each.
“So I am looking, I am focusing my attention on how I could –what we can do to help these particular airlines in the circumstances. I’m having a discussion this evening with One Caribbean and tomorrow I’m having a discussion with people from SVG Air. And, as always, you would expect me to try to be ahead of the curve,” he said.
The prime minister continued:
“I’m not getting involved in arguments about if there is a new airline, regional airline, where it is to be located, what private sector should be involved. I hear a lot of private sector people talking, but I want to see where their money is. Remember the number who wanted LIAT to close down and they will spring up?
“I’m dealing with what I have right in front of me. I’m talking about two airlines owned here by Vincentians…”
Gonsalves said he wants to see the liquidation process well underway and complete before he could “talk about providing money for any other source”.
The prime minister said that the union leader for LIAT had written to him requesting a meeting because they were raising issues of severance.
“Well, we have 41 employees in St. Vincent and the severance payment is $1.51 million,” he said, adding that the union leader was surprised that the money had reached so far.
“Of course, none of that they can have from LIAT because LIAT doesn’t have any money,” Gonsalves said, adding that there is another $400,000 outstanding in vacation pay, “which LIAT doesn’t have either”.
He said he had said repeatedly that the democratic state cannot be a bandit.
“I’m not gonna go further than that. I can’t tell you what, if anything, I’m going to offer the LIAT workers. I make a general statement first because I don’t want anybody to be taking any words that I am saying — any creditors of LIAT — to say that I am discriminating by saying that I am going to help LIAT workers but I am not going to help other creditors from St. Vincent with LIAT, maybe a small hotel, maybe a small restaurateur who LIAT might owe money. You see what I mean?
“Once this process is about to begin, I have to be careful with my tongue. I am sufficiently a lawyer. What I can tell you is that it is unlikely, highly unlikely that any of these persons can get anything from LIAT itself because LIAT doesn’t have assets.”
Gonsalves said he had spoken to his Antiguan counterpart about the developments.
“… he has spoken quite expansively and he has said — I saw a report that he has said air transport is the only thing he get out of the region and he wants to maintain the LIAT name, he wants up there to be the headquarters still and creditors will have to take a haircut, including people for severance payment. I am not going into those discussions, except to say I am not hung-up as to what name is retained, or anything like that.”
Gonsalves reiterated that he was having discussions with the two local airlines, and his objective is to get Vincentians to and from the country to make their connections.
“And I am not leaving it to conjecture. I take into account the confluence of circumstances or what you may call the conjuncture of circumstances. I am not conjecturing.
“I make no promises or pledges to anybody concerned with LIAT because of all the legal circumstances. I am seeking to see what can be done to assist in the most optimal movement of visitors and our people to and from St. Vincent and the Grenadines,” he said.