Master of Ceremonies
LIAT shareholder Prime Ministers of Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados and St. Vincent and the Grenadines
President of the Caribbean Development Bank
Financial Secretary (Ag) of the Commonwealth of Dominica
Ministers of Government
Directors of LIAT
Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen
Members of the Press
I join with other speakers in welcoming all attendees to this very special and historic ceremony for the signing of loan agreements relating to a loan of US $ 65 million from the Caribbean Development Bank for the purpose of modernizing the LIAT Fleet. If I may quote from a history of the Bank, this institution was established by an agreement signed on 18th October 1969 in Kingston Jamaica and entered into force on January 26th 1970. It was “for the purpose of contributing to the harmonious economic growth and development of the member countries in the Caribbean and promoting economic cooperation and integration among them, having special and urgent regard to the needs of the less developed members of the region”. I have a very vivid personal memory of these events. It was in 1969 that Prime Minister Barrow called me into his office when I was permanent secretary (Ag), Ministry of External Affairs, and asked me what have you got to show for all the money you have spent travelling to conferences. Then with a big smile on his face he said “I have been to a conference in Jamaica and brought back a bank”. He was referring to CDB.
I wish to put on the record that, in my opinion, this Bank, under the leadership of Caribbean men of exceptional ability and scholarship, have more than fulfilled the purposes identified by its Founding Fathers. I go further in asserting that this LIAT re-fleeting project was tailor-made for the objectives of CDB. Without the connectivity of regional transportation, many of the territories in the Caribbean are condemned to be the specks of dust which French President, De Gaulle, so disdainfully christened them a few decades ago. For 57 years LIAT, with the support of a few shareholder governments of considerable fortitude, has survived the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, when others of great reputation in business enterprise have failed. It has sought to connect the English, French, Spanish and Dutch Caribbean people scattered among 21 countries and defied predictions of its collapse often by those who have themselves failed to stay the course. Certainly, in executing so difficult a mandate, LIAT has made its fair share of mistakes and owns them. But some of the time, LIAT seems to suffer from a propensity of the Caribbean cultural norm to hold its own people to a higher standard than those from outside.
The timing of this project and this loan is not a matter of happenstance. By 2012 the frequent breakdown of the existing twenty year old LIAT aircraft had made it difficult to fulfill the demands of a schedule which was designed in response to the demands for service requested by Caribbean countries. To ensure safety, each problem had to be fixed before an aircraft could be returned to service. This however resulted in poor on-time performance and constant dissatisfaction of the customer. A re-fleeting committee was therefore established in 2012 which examined what needed to be done, the pros and cons of different types of aircraft, what they would cost and where they would fly. None of the decisions made were easy and if I said that there was always unanimity in conclusions reached I would be lying. Ultimately, after considering several factors the fleet committee recommended that the best decision was to change the entire fleet at a cost of US $ 100 million and that the process had to begin without delay. This then had to be sold to the shareholder governments including how we aimed to raise this daunting sum of money.
Apart from the monumental challenge of negotiating this sum of money, I wish to put on record that changing all your old aircraft for new aircraft of a different type, while training all your pilots and engineers in France to operate and service the new aircraft, while having the regulatory bodies in 21 different countries certify each new aircraft before it can operate to their country, simultaneously with continuing to operate a scheduled service to all countries at the busiest period of the year, and while the old aircraft continue to breakdown every day, is to say the least, an extremely difficult task. It has been hard on the public, for which I apologize, and it has been hard on the LIAT staff. On reflection the public should have been made aware much earlier of what LIAT was attempting to do, the timing of which was largely driven by external circumstances, and that disruptions in the service would be inevitable. At this point I promise you however that LIAT must and will do better.
The light at the end of the tunnel is that by mid- January 2014, thanks to what is happening here today, 7 of the 12 new aircraft planned will be in place and providing the public with a better and more comfortable air transportation service across the Caribbean.
We are also aware that the stresses and strains of the summer have tested the quality of our customer service and we are hard at work with a number of expert agencies in this area seeking to achieve the desired standards. In 2012, LIAT carried just under 800,000 Caribbean passengers. It is not clear how they would otherwise have done their various socio-economic tasks if LIAT did not fly them. With the help of the new aircraft we hope to increase the number of passengers exponentially.
I end with heartfelt thanks to the President and Board of the Caribbean Development Bank for approving this loan and express our continuing gratitude to our shareholder Prime Ministers whose support has not been weakened by the personal blows they have taken for any LIAT misdemeanours , real or imagined.
I particularly wish to express my own appreciation to our CEO and staff for their continuing hard work in the face of adversity and to the LIAT directors who serve in return for little personal gain.
I Thank you.
10th August 2013.
LIAT is one of the leading Caribbean airlines. It is owned by regional shareholders, with major shareholders being the Governments of Barbados, Antigua & Barbuda and St. Vincent & the Grenadines. More information about LIAT may be found at www.liat.com.