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Government comes late to Liat party, but better late than never

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The Government of St Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) has been perhaps the most consistently vocal supporter of the regional airline LIAT, in which it is a major shareholder. It has not only invested unhesitatingly in the airline, but has publicly wooed other regional governments to come on board and has been a strong defender of the embattled carrier.

This position is one that has, over the years, been questioned by many Vincentians given the perception that this country is not getting value for money from the airline.{{more}}

This week, the Vincentian Government was forced to write a strongly worded letter to LIAT, expressing its dissatisfaction with the quality of service being rendered to Vincentians by the airline. This follows an inexplicable incident, in which the flight transporting our national footballers to Trinidad en route to Guatemala for a World Cup qualifying match was sent back to Arnos Vale, and as a result, our footballers arrived in Guatemala only one day before the match.

Many Vincentians, on hearing news of the government letter, have asked, and rightly so, why has it taken the Government so long to respond to LIAT’s long series of inconveniences. Was it because of the shabby treatment of Vincy Heat in a high-profile situation? Or does it have to do with cost implications for the Government in meeting LIAT’s unreasonable and regular requests to keep the airport open beyond scheduled hours to accommodate delayed flights, thereby incurring costs for overtime pay for airport staff?

Well, Vincentians and travellers to our country have complained bitterly over the years about LIAT showing scant regard for passengers travelling to and from St Vincent. We have lost the patronage of many visitors because of it and even Vincentians in the diaspora are reluctant to undergo the humiliations. This lack of proper service to our country has been felt in the pockets of many travellers and local businesses for years. People have missed funerals, weddings and other important social events, arrived late to resume work or for school, lost pay and even jobs in extreme circumstances. We have had to find money to buy new tickets to get to our destinations, book hotel rooms; businesses have lost customers and clients, goods have spoilt or arrived late, many times without compensation. Above all, and this should be of major concern to the Government, is the negative effect on productivity.

Our citizens and affected visitors have been voicing these concerns for years. So, although arriving late to the party, we welcome the Government of SVG. Welcome to what we have been experiencing for too long.

Government has demanded an urgent meeting with LIAT within the next week. It is our view that the time has come for a firm stance to let LIAT know how serious we are about the situation. For instance, we should withhold any further funding until there is significant improvement in the service. Our Government has long defended the LIAT monopoly; perhaps it is time for us to consider opening the skies to competition to force LIAT to improve its service.

In other words, a range of options must be put on the table. We would also urge our Government to consult other governments, particularly of countries similarly affected, like Dominica, for instance, to win support for urgent action to set LIAT’s keel on the correct path.

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