By Melanius Alphonse
Caribbean News Now associate managing editor
KINGSTOWN, St Vincent — Following St Vincent and the Grenadines’ prime minister, Dr Ralph Gonsalves exclamations that LIAT closure is imminent, comes his inverted optimism that LIAT is not going anywhere, anytime soon.
Gonsalves, who is also the chairman of LIAT’s shareholder government said, “We are going to be all right.” The chairman’s remark was based on the decision by some regional governments to accessed to LIAT’s emergency funding of US$ 5.4 million to remain viable, restructuring plans and new investment options.
Grenada’s investment to date is EC$1.3 million (One EC dollar = US$0.37 cents) and reaffirmed that commitment to becoming the regional airline’s fifth shareholder, April 30, alongside Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, St Vincent and the Grenadines and majority shareholder Barbados.
CARICOM affairs minister, Oliver Joseph who is also Grenada’s trade and industry minister, said “When we look at the figures from the number of passengers that LIAT brings to Grenada, of course the multiplier effect is great. LIAT brings in thousands of visitors to Grenada every year and therefore from an economic and social point of view Grenada had to support LIAT because not supporting LIAT will mean the loss of revenue and economic development to our country.”
St Kitts and Nevis has put in approximately EC$1 million, while Dominica recognises LIAT’s socio-economic impact has reiterated a commitment to contribute to the “sustainability and sustenance” of the regional airline.
Thus far, Saint Lucia has not contributed and has held on to its administration’s “lone ranger” physiology of not contributing any funds unless there’s a significant change to the airline’s structure. Meanwhile, Saint Lucia continues to benefit from LIAT’s services, collect landing fees and other taxes that contribute to the high cost of regional travel. Despite these benefits, Saint Lucia has not offered any meaningful proposal on the way forward for region travel.
LIAT still needs “some more money,” Gonsalves said. This coincides with chief executive officer (CEO) Julie Reifer-Jones, in that “There are ongoing discussions with governments on the need for all the territories served by LIAT to contribute through a minimum revenue guarantee model (MRG).”
“LIAT remains optimistic that the discussions would be concluded shortly,” while the regional airline “continues to update its restructuring plan so that LIAT can evolve into a more efficient and sustainable company serving the region.” “LIAT is committed to connecting the region, flying to the 15 destinations across the network,” Reifer-Jones said.
On the matter of Sir Richard Branson of Virgin Records interest and/or a potential investor in LIAT, gathers divergent thoughts.
Joseph said, “I am not aware that Virgin has expressed any interest in LIAT but they are looking at various models, so if Virgin expressed interest, that is something that LIAT board will consider because government maintains that you have to restructure LIAT, so if you get a partner I am sure that the board will consider it favourably.”
LIAT’s chairman explained that he had not received any formal indication. “I have not been aware of that. Nobody has contacted me about that. Whether Branson said so in an offhand way or in a serious manner, I don’t know. You know something, [when] rich people say something, I don’t usually jump like that… until I see something really meaningful.”
Meanwhile, LIAT is re-tooling a much-required restructuring plan and Caribbean Development Bank (CDB) proposal aimed at moving forward.
The government of Antigua and Barbuda awaits LIAT’s majority share-holder Barbados; pertaining to a buy-out option, which is part of prime minister Gaston Browne’s strategic approach to safeguard regional transportation and LIAT’s viability.