Prime Minister of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Ralph Gonsalves, says he had offered to sell his Antiguan counterpart, Gaston Browne, for EC$1, Kingstown’s shareholding in doomed regional airline LIAT.
Gonsalves’ offer comes at a time when the other shareholder governments in LIAT – Barbados and Dominica — have agreed to liquidate the cash-strapped carrier, even as St. John’s pushes ahead with efforts to ensure that LIAT 2020 emerges after the financial procedure.
“I don’t want to stop Antigua and Barbuda wanting to do what they want to do,” Gonsalves, who is chair of the shareholder governments, said on WE FM on Sunday as he spoke about the EC$1 offer, which he said he had made to Browne.
The offer includes Antigua and Barbuda paying Kingstown the value of the debt that the Gonsalves government guaranteed during LIAT’s re-fleeting exercise, which was conducted a few years ago.
“… the debt which we guarantee on the three planes at the CDB (Caribbean Development Bank), let’s value the planes and the amount of money which we owe the CBD on these planes, pay me that and I get out of it (LIAT) and you do what you want to do.”
Gonsalves said a virtual meeting of the four major shareholders of the airline has been scheduled for 5:30 p.m. Monday.
“Because we are going to liquidate, when we liquidate, any debt we have at CDB, we are still responsible for, in respect of LIAT, but to the extent to which we had signed,” he said, adding that different governments guaranteed different portions of the debt.
“You want the planes, we will get the planes valued,” he said, adding that he believes the aircraft might be valued around US$10 million each.
“LIAT has served St. Vincent and the Grenadines pretty well. We have had different times, 42, 49 flights a week, sometimes more than that, and we collect a lot of taxes because of the number of people who went on LIAT and so on and so forth.
“I am prepared, even the money which LIAT owes the Vincentian government for fees and some taxes and so, I am prepared to write that off because I can’t get it back in any case in liquidation. LIAT doesn’t have any assets.”
Gonsalves said he had told Browne from the beginning that he does not want to do anything to stop Antigua from doing what he wants to do, regarding LIAT.
“But I am not looking forward to the past. I am on a different wavelength with air transport. And if he gets LIAT and he starts it with these three planes and he gets other planes, I haven’t seen the plan yet, he said he will send it to me. I hope I get it in the morning so I can read it. It will function in competition with other airlines. I have no problem with that.”
Gonsalves said that Antigua and Barbuda is 25% of the economic size of the Eastern Caribbean Economic Union.
“I have an interest in Antigua and Barbuda prospering just like they have an interest in us prospering because all of us are in the currency union. Anyone that is down, it helps to drag others … You notice in all of this, I haven’t thrown any word at anybody. When I talk to people privately, I say what I have to say but I am not getting in any quarrel with anybody across the seas. I’m just laying out, broadly speaking…
“But I have no problem and I will walk away because [in] the liquidation process, you will have to walk away in any case,” Gonsalves said.