PM Gonsalves says time for ‘new LIAT’

Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves

Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves says the service offered to St Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) by the Turks and Caicos-based InterCaribbean Airways is “absolutely terrible” and that he is awaiting documents related to a “new LIAT”.

“The service is terrible. The service is absolutely terrible. And all what you guys said this morning on the radio about it, I support. It is a terrible service,” Gonsalves said on a radio programme in SVG.

Over the past months, InterCaribbean passengers have been complaining about long delays, resulting in some passengers missing international connections.

In some instances, InterCaribbean Airways passengers have had to shell out thousands of dollars to buy new tickets for their international connections because of the late or non-operation of the airline’s flights.

In late July, Arlene John complained in an email to a Kingstown-based online media outlet, iWitness News, that the airline needs to go out of business, adding, “it’s so unprofessional that they don’t know how to communicate with their customers”.

John said she was scheduled to leave St Vincent on a 7.30 pm (local time) flight to Barbados but the aircraft had to go to St Lucia first then fly back to St Vincent before taking passengers to Barbados.

Speaking on the programme “Issue At Hand” Prime Minister Gonsalves said he was awaiting a document from the Barbados-based Caribbean Development Bank (CDB) “for a new LIAT”.

Juan Edghill

LIAT (I974) Limited, whose main shareholders are the governments of Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Dominica and St Vincent and the Grenadines, entered into administration in July 2020 following increased debt and the impact of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Regional trade unions say their members are owed millions of dollars in severance payments and other benefits.

Antigua and Barbuda has since established LIAT 2020, which operates a limited number of flights across the region.

In 2013, CDB provided loans totalling US$65 million to the four shareholder governments of LIAT to assist with the purchase of aircraft in the context of a fleet modernisation project.

Gonsalves said Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda, Gaston Browne had sent two of his officials to talk to him “about an initiative which he was having but I was suggesting that we don’t need to have these initiatives at cross purposes.

“There can be initiatives together and I raised some issues also with them,” Gonsalves told radio listeners, adding that he used to beg leaders across the Caribbean to put money into LIAT, either in equity or market support

“When men and women getting a free ride, they ain’t paying you attention and in St Vincent and the Grenadines, I talk, talk, talk, talk to people and then you had a lot of persons who not studying the thing carefully, ‘Oh, Ralph putting too much money in LIAT’ and so on.”

Gonsalves said that when Barbados, for its own fiscal reasons, thought it could not continue investing in LIAT, he told Prime Minister Browne that Kingstown and St John’s could not carry the airline along.

He said LIAT used to operate six or seven flights a day into St. Vincent with those numbers increasing to eight or nine during Carnival or Christmas.

“So, we had 40-something flights per week with LIAT, which was a big, big help,” Gonsalves said.

“CAL (Caribbean Airlines) is putting in some things,” he said, adding that he was working with Mustique Company, which has five 19-seater aircraft, one of which is being serviced now.

“I want to see if we can get them with a little more regular service, a regular service out of St Vincent to Barbados, Trinidad, neighbouring islands, St Lucia and the like.

Gonsalves has become the second CARICOM politician to complain publicly in recent times about InterCaribbean’s service.

Last week, Guyana’s Public Works Minister, Juan Edghill told the airline it could face sanctions if it does not avoid prolonged flight delays and cancellations.

“If they don’t fulfil those obligations that they made last week Thursday, we will have to step in and take additional actions or possible sanctions,” Edghill told the Guyana-based Demerara Waves Online News.