St Lucia still mulling LIAT investment

sherieholder, sherieholder@nationnews.com

Added 02 November 2012

liat

CASTRIES, St. Lucia, Nov 2, CMC – Prime Minister Dr. Kenny Anthony remains doubtful as to whether St. Lucia can at this time participate in the re-development of the regional airline, LIAT, which is seeking to purchase new aircraft and expand its route network. The St. Lucia government is being asked to play a greater fiscal role in the struggling carrier which has been beset by financial difficulties and misfortune. Earlier this year, The St. Vincent and the Grenadines government, one of three shareholders of the Antigua-based airline, called on Castries to fast track its decision to become a significant shareholder. However, despite a sales pitch by airline officials here in late October, Prime Minister Anthony remains circumspect about investment in the financially strapped carrier. He said that the outlay for the new fleet of aircraft would be significant, a tall order for the carrier which has accumulated million of dollars in debt.  Anthony said contrary to popular belief St. Lucia is a shareholder of the company, albeit with a minority stake of six million EC dollars (One EC dollar = US$0.37 cents) and it was for that reason that the airlines executives were granted an audience during as visit here last week.  “I have said before that there is a sympathetic environment for LIAT because we provide minimum guarantees for aircraft from other countries bringing tourists into our country and it seems unfair that we are subsidizing other aircraft and we do not extend assistance to LIAT,” Anthony said in a television broadcast. Anthony said he was in no position to tell the LIAT team whether his government would accede to their request for help. He said he was mindful of the importance of upgrading the carrier’s fleet and the fate of the dedicate employees, but noted that his government too was faced with economic challenges which require that his government protect the public interest.  “We have to ask the question what does St. Lucia get out of this and in the new configuration of LIAT we would want to explore what benefits can be accrued from any investment that it makes in LIAT,” the Prime Minister noted.  Anthony said the airline executives were told that government and technocrats would review the proposals and assured them that a timely response would be forthcoming given the urgency of the situation.  “The situation with LIAT is serious, they need help as of tomorrow basically, because the aircraft as I said is pretty dated and if the situation continues then the debt levels will worsen, so I think it is important that the agony be reduced as much as possible and a decision one way or the other must be made as quickly as possible,” he added. CMC/es/ir/2012

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