July 6, 2007
PM Gonsalves plugs for LIAT at Caricom forum

Countries which do not support LIAT have been accused of acting contrary to the letter and spirit of regional integration by outgoing CARICOM chairman, Vincentian Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves.

Dr Gonsalves, not for the first time batted resolutely in LIAT’s corner at a CARICOM forum.{{more}}

This latest occasion was at the just concluded the 28th Heads of Government Conference held in Barbados from July 01st to 4th.

“It is entirely contrary to the letter and the spirit of the regional integration movement for some governments to act subversively of the enterprise known as LIAT,” Dr Gonsalves said during his speech at the conference’s opening ceremony on the grounds of the Barbados parliament buildings on Sunday.

He noted that when the founding fathers of CARICOM signed of the Treaty of Chaguaramas, which established CARICOM in 1973, they also pledged support to LIAT as a regional entity.

“Even countries not served by LIAT, such as Michael Manley’s Jamaica, brought shares in this airline,” Dr Gonsalves stated, then asked “Are we less resolute than our forebears?”

He said that while he accepts that LIAT has to implement further internal reforms to enhance its efficiency, he stresses the importance of having all the regional governments on board.

Dr Gonsalves, like a broken record, again suggested that his counterparts should either provide equity or adequate market support for the embattled airline; as is done for international carriers.

He suggested that the burden of LIAT is getting to be too much for the three shareholding governments (Barbados, Antigua & Barbuda and St Vincent and the Grenadines) alone.

However countries like St Lucia have distanced themselves continually from suggestions of investing in LIAT and tourism minister for that country, Allen Chastanet has repeated made that abundantly clear.

In a recent interview with SEARCHLIGHT, Chastanet said that he does not envision a situation where LIAT is the only inter island carrier and welcomed competition to drive airfares down.

Meanwhile Vincentian tourism officials were told last Tuesday that they should not accept excuses about why the cost of air transportation is so high, but rather demand that the problem be fixed.

Speaking at the Ministry of Tourism’s annual planning meeting here, Secretary General of the Caribbean Tourism Organisation Vincent Vanderpool-Wallace again voiced concerns on the air travel situation.

“Identify what needs to be fixed and fix it, people don’t care who is responsible, they just want it done,” Vanderpool-Wallace said.

At this rate, with the many voices speaking on the issue, it isn’t clear whether or not CARICOM can find any synergy on the subject of air transportation, more specifically LIAT.