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Gonsalves willing to meet with Browne to discuss LIAT

Gonsalves willing to meet with Browne to discuss LIAT
RALPH GONSALVES, Prime Ministers

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While he is open to meeting with major shareholders to discuss a reorganization plan for LIAT, Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves will not stop looking for viable options of regional air transport to fill the void caused by LIAT’s pending liquidation.

Gonsalves was speaking on Round Table Talk on VC3 on Wednesday when he said that Antigua’s Prime Minister, Gaston Browne had written to the other major shareholder governments of LIAT to request a meeting for next week.

Browne is expected to present and discuss a reorganization plan for the regional airline, as an alternative to liquidation.

SVG’s prime minister said he has no problem in listening to Browne if he has a workable plan with realistic financing.

He added however that he will not fight the future and the requisites of efficacious regional air transport.
Barbados, Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica and St Vincent and the Grenadines hold just over 90 per cent of LIAT’s shares.

On June 27, the heads of these countries met to discuss the future of the cash-strapped airline, following a recommendation from the Board of Directors to liquidate the company.

Gonsalves said that the Board of LIAT 1974 Ltd, which is chaired by former Barbadian prime minister, Owen Arthur met on June 23, where they went over an analysis of LIAT’s financial condition.

“From that analysis, from that presentation, the Board of Directors concluded that LIAT couldn’t pay its debts, that it was in a bad shape financially and that it should be wound up,” he said.

Gonsalves, who is the chairman of the shareholder governments said that at a June 27 meeting, all four major shareholders unanimously approved the Board’s resolution to liquidate LIAT 1974, which was incorporated in Antigua and Barbuda.

He said he was asked to write a letter to all staff of LIAT to outline what had led to the decision and to give certain recognition to staff.

The chairman added that it was decided that Barbados, which has the most shares, will prepare a list of one or more than one company to be liquidators with proposed terms and conditions.

“All of these things were unanimously agreed upon,” he said, noting that the Government of Antigua has since questioned whether they should go through with liquidation.

As it stands, LIAT 1974 Ltd cannot afford to pay workers severance and vacation pay, which amount to almost EC$100 million.

This means that more than 800 employees are likely to be impacted, with well over 300 being in Antigua alone.

Gonsalves noted that Antigua and Barbuda accounts for more than a quarter of the economy of the East Caribbean Currency Union and has a history of recovering quickly after crisis because of the nature of their tourism infrastructure.

And so he believes the OECS twin-island territory’s economy will bounce back sharply once the COVID-19 period is over.

While he was not dismissing Browne’s efforts to keep LIAT afloat, Gonsalves said it was important that he continue his quest to secure airlift in the region, particularly in and out of this country.

The Vincentian prime minister also said that four airlines — Caribbean Airlines (CAL), InterCaribbean, One Caribbean and SVG Air have all indicated their interest and capabilities of picking up various routes already and soon.

“One Caribbean has indicated to me…that they can move as early as Sunday. They want to do St Lucia, Barbados, St Vincent,” he said.

He added that the Vincentian owned airline had requested a third 30-seater plane from their lessors to be able to do more runs. But they intend to look at the market and then maybe take up routes from Grenada to Dominica.

“And they can do these shorter runs while CAL may do some longer ones,” he said.

Gonsalves noted that SVG Air already works some routes in the region with their 19-seater planes.

And he proffered that it would be good for both SVG Air and One Caribbean to market themselves together, even though they have separate operations, so as to provide a seamless travel experience for passengers.

“I cannot fight the future and the requisites of regional air transport. I can’t put my head in the sky. I can’t plant my feet in the air. I cannot fight the future, where people require something immediately. I have to address what is at hand…I’m not going to look forward to the past because I know if I look forward to the past, in extant circumstances, that is not sustainable,” Gonsalves said.

He said it is likely that someone may present a workable plan with realistic financing for something else but until then, he will focus his attention on moving persons throughout the region in the absence of LIAT.

“I have to move everybody. I have to move visitors, I have to move nationals and we have to do it as…we seek to live well with COVID and all the challenges inherent with that kind of life and living,” the Vincentian prime minister said.

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