I’m not getting into side show theatre over LIAT – Gonsalves
This country’s prime minister will not be goaded into an exchange of words with any other prime minister in the region over the pending liquidation of regional airline, LIAT.
Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves said on Sunday, July 5 that he has received many calls from media in the region, asking him to comment on what other prime ministers have said in relation to the issue.
But SVG’s prime minister, who is the chairman of LIAT’s shareholder countries, said: “I’m not getting involved in that. That is a side show theatre”.
He added that his intent was on solving the issue at hand; that of regional air transport.
It has been almost two weeks since the major shareholder countries of LIAT (1974) Ltd announced the intent to liquidate the cash-strapped company. It was also revealed that the company could not afford to pay workers their due for severance and vacation time, which amounts to over EC$94 million.
Antigua and Barbuda’s prime minister, Gaston Browne, in an open letter posted on the official Facebook page of the Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda, advocated for a restructuring of the company so as to save the regional carrier.
In his letter, he said; “for the states to walk away from their liabilities is morally reprehensible and perhaps illegal”.
“The possibility of legal action to stop the liquidation and protect the interest of creditors should not be ruled out. The state has an obligation to protect, not hide behind legal arguments and exploit vulnerable creditors.
Instead, minority shareholders and creditors should call for a reorganization plan,” the letter said.
But Prime Minister Gonsalves said on radio on Sunday he could not say that he was going to take care of the severance payment without considering all persons involved, which not only include workers but other small businesses as well.
One suggestion for dealing with money owed to workers by LIAT include individual governments taking care of, in whole or in part, of workers working in the respective countries.
Another is for governments to make payments to those who work in the respective countries as well as nationals workings in other countries.
Antigua’s prime minister has also suggested a distribution of severance and vacation payments for workers among shareholder governments according to each government’s holdings.
“Well, there’s no legal basis for that. In other words, of the 100 million, St Vincent has 10 or 11 per cent of the shares, that we will pay 10,11 million dollars. That’s not going to happen because there’s no legal basis for that,” Gonsalves said on Sunday.
The Vincentian prime minister said he wants to make sure that air travel is secure in the region.
He noted that several carriers have expressed an interest in taking up routes, including InterCaribbean, an airline carrier based in Turks and Caicos.
Gonsalves also noted that there was an abundance of carriers – more than 30, in the region already.
Trinidad-based, Caribbean Airlines and local airlines One Caribbean and SVG Air are counted in this number.
“Before COVID, months before COVID, I had spoken with the principals of InterCaribbean and since then we have spoken and CAL, the chairman, Mr Ronnie Mohammed has called me, I’ve been in touch with them before and they have sent me a document which includes, which shows that what they have at the moment, they can do 80 per cent of LIAT’s pre-COVID network,” Gonsalves said on Sunday.
The Vincentian prime minister again acknowledged Antiguan prime minister, Gaston Browne’s efforts to save LIAT and said that what was being done in terms of looking at alternative air transport is in no way meant to oppose what anyone else wants to do.