Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves said yesterday that the first plane with thirty Vincentian students who wanted to return home amid the Covid-19 threat was expected to arrive here between Tuesday and Wednesday from Jamaica.
“One Caribbean is taking the students because I think there was a problem as to whether you can get 56 to take Liat right away, even though you have 71-72 students in all,” Dr Gonsalves said on WE FM 99.9 on Tuesday.
Dr Gonsalves said that “after the first batch comes, the second batch may decide to organize fairly swiftly,” adding that it was “a work in progress.”
The announcement that One Caribbean airline was transporting the students instead of regional airline Liat has caused some concern.
The students were asked to pay US$1,339 each for all of Liat’s 56 seats which the airline promised to make available. But, if the seats were not filled then the students faced extra cost.
The Government of St Vincent and the Grenadines is a shareholder of the cash-strapped Liat and this and other governments in the region have been pumping millions over years into the airline.
Parliament in April approved $2.7 million for the cash-strapped Liat. The money was part of an overall $74 million Recovery and Stimulus Package approved to mitigate the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Leader of the Opposition Dr Godwin Friday on the New Democratic Party’s New Times programme on NICE Radio said he had raised the question about the bailout money, asking why LIAT and why at the time. He said he was told Liat had overhead expenses and so on, and “they’re not flying because it costs more to fly than to park up the planes and that LIAT needs money to continue its operation.”
“We voted for the stimulus package. And so we expect that now that the situation where the students also need some relief, they need some COVID relief too. So, if we can find $2.7 million to assist LIAT, we should be able to find money also to assist the students because they are affected,” Dr Friday stated.