The shareholder governments of the cash-strapped regional airline, LIAT, ended a meeting here on Tuesday agreeing to give further consideration to a proposal by Prime Minister Gaston Browne regarding the future direction of the airline.
St. Vincent and the Grenadines Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves told the Caribbean Media Corporation (CMC) that Antigua and Barbuda had made an oral presentation to the meeting and would present a written document over the next few days.
“This was an extraordinary shareholders meeting at which the auditor’s account for 2017 were discussed and the way forward analysed,” Gonsalves said.
“The Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda presented orally a proposal and the proposal would be put into writing within a week and this proposal involves among other things a particular way to finance the keeping of the three planes owned by the CDB (Caribbean Development Bank) “
Gonsalves said that there had been a suggestion that the planes be sold as part of a “”slim down of LIAT” and there’s a general agreement amongst some shareholders that this is a matter which merits very serious consideration.
The main shareholders of LIAT are Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Dominica and St. Vincent and the Grenadines and Gonsalves had earlier this month said that the shareholders would probably have to ask the CDB to sell those three aircraft while operating the other seven, possibly examining also another smaller airline to operate on routes that may not have been profitable.
He said he hopes that the proposal from Antigua and Barbuda would be discussed by the shareholders “before the end of May is out.
“They have put it on the table orally, but they will submit in writing for further study…and that proposal is gathering support from most shareholders,” he said, adding “what it means in effect that these planes will not be sold.
“There will be additional resources put in without selling these planes,” he added.
The shareholder governments have been asking other Caribbean governments to provide financial assistance to the Antigua-based airline that services 15 Caribbean countries.
Gonsalves confirmed that St. Kitts-Nevis had joined Grenada in responding positively to the call for raising US$5.4 million to help the airline deal with its current financial problems.
St. Lucia Prime Minister Allen Chastanet said last week that Castries would not contribute any funds unless there’s a significant change to the airline’s structure.
“LIAT must change…. Obviously it’s a big concern to all of us and I am hoping that at the upcoming meeting they will be able to find a resolution,” Chastanet said.
LIAT chief executive officer, Julie Mrs. Reifer-Jones said that there are ongoing discussions with the governments across the LIAT network about the need for all the territories served by LIAT to contribute through a Minimum Revenue Guarantee (MRG) model.
Under and MRG model, it is likely that a few flights may be cut if the government is not prepared to fund them with a guarantee.
“Well it is only one prime minister in the OECS (Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States) who is not putting any money and it is Prime Minister Chastanet of St. Lucia,” Gonsalves told CMC, adding “(Prime Minister Dr.) Keith Mitchell has put from Grenada, now St. Kitts and Nevis…and the other three shareholders in the OECS, Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica and St. Vincent and the Grenadines, have put in money”.
“The odd man out in the OECS is Prime Minister Chastanet with regards to LIAT,” he said, noting that while Guyana has not yet responded, Trinidad and Tobago has agreed in principle “to the Minimum Revenue Guarantee going forward.
He said the details of the MRG is to be worked out, adding “all that is part of the package which will come before us from Antigua and Barbuda”.