Sunday, March 3, 2024

OUR CARIBBEAN: This painful inaction on air transport

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As uncertainties deepened this past weekend over REDjet airline’s resumption of flight operations in Caribbean destinations, it was painful to note the continuing inaction by regional governments – except that of Barbados.
Not even the Prime Minister of St Vincent and the Grenadines, Ralph Gonsalves, known for his readiness to engage in public reactions, via the media, on any issue of regional interest, had seen it as appropriate – up to the time of writing – to come forward with an initiative for a special meeting of at least the shareholders of LIAT to consider the implications of REDjet’s sudden suspension of operations.         
Along with that of Barbados, the governments of St Vincent and the Grenadines and Antigua and Barbuda are the trio of major shareholders of LIAT – against which REDjet has been competing on routes with its marketing claims as a “low-cost” carrier.
At the weekend, Barbados’ Prime Minister Freundel Stuart made public – via the SUNDAY SUN –his interest in meeting with the principals of REDjet but, understandably, without any prior commitment to a subsidy.
Whatever eventually emerges from the meeting arranged with Stuart cannot provide an excuse for the public silence and inaction on the part of governments in other CARICOM jurisdictions which have been served by both LIAT and REDjet.  
Among such governments are those that seem deaf and dumb to the growing public clamour for some creative official responses to arrest the deteriorating problems.
After all, regional air transportation is a fundamental social and economic responsibility of the governments of our Community. Yet, in the face of today’s crisis, not even the governments that had granted operational licences to REDjet to compete with LIAT – and, to a lesser extent, Caribbean Airlines (CAL) – appear disposed to a special meeting in search of realistic solutions.
Against this pathetic scenario, REDjet’s original backers seem stumped for alternatives beyond a plea for subsidies from governments. What makes the situation amusing, is that the principals of REDjet would be aware that LIAT has not benefitted from any subsidy from any government for at least the past five years.
In this context, it was quite a startling disclosure by the popular radio journalist, David Ellis, who made public this past Monday, the wide range of subsidies, in the form of tax waivers, that the Barbados-based REDjet has already succeeded in obtaining in its less than first year of operations.
These would include exemptions from customs duty; personal income tax for top aviation personnel; duty-free importation of household personal effects as well as vehicles for specialist expatriate staff. As Trinidadians like to quip, “you tink it easy”!

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