by Kaymar Jordan
Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves says do not blame him or any other leader of a shareholder government for last week’s sudden resignation of LIAT’s Chief Executive Officer Captain Ian Brunton.
At the same time, the Vincentian leader is dismissing a report in the Trinidad Newsday newspaper this week which indicated that the company’s Chairman Jean Holder, who is currently away on holiday, was about to follow suit.
“There is no vacancy in the [LIAT] chairmanship,” said Gonsalves.
“I don’t know where Newsday got the thing from … That is just pure misinformation and nonsense,” he said in telephone interview with Barbados TODAY this evening.
The prime minister, who has just returned home from Port of Spain, also denied speaking to the Trinidad newspaper on the matter or that he had been seeking to have his personal appointee on the LIAT board of directors, Isaac Solomon, permanently replace Holder at the helm.
“The Chairman with the other members of the board would have asked Isaac Solomon, who happens to be a Vincentian, to hold the position of acting chairman while Jean is away. That is all,” the prime minister said.
Gonsalves also commented on the surprise decision of Captain Brunton to quit, which came against the backdrop of an announced US$100 million refleeting programme for the Antigua-based carrier that has descended into travel horrors for both the airline and members of the travelling public.
In recent weeks, stranded passengers, long lines and extended delays have been the order of the day for the struggling regional carrier, owned by the governments of Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica and St. Vincent and the Grenadines. The situation has only served to exacerbate problems for the airline, which reported EC$80 million (BDS$59 million) in losses in 2010 and a deficit of EC$344 million (BDS$247 million) by the end of 2012.
“It was a terrible period. No question about that,” said Gonsalves.
However, asked directly if Brunton was pushed, he said: “I don’t know the reasons [for his departure]. I haven’t spoken to Brunton. I have been speaking to the acting chairman and the acting chairman has been speaking to me but the reasons he wanted to resign I don’t know.
Pressed on the issue, he insisted: “I had no communication. The first time I heard about Brunton resigning was when the acting chairman informed me that Brunton had sent a letter of resignation so I don’t know of the circumstances.”
The recent problems have prompted several agitated calls, including those made by some prominent regional businessmen, for changes to be made at the LIAT helm. But Gonsalves said: “All these senior executives will know if they are managing a company the first sign of difficulty you don’t ask for heads to roll until an analysis is done of the challenges, what are the problems.”
He said he had stayed away from making adverse comments about LIAT management and had read all the reasons that Brunton had offered as to the difficulties the airline had.
“I have gotten reports from the directors . . . but I certainly and I don’t know of any shareholder who has been involved in any pushing so I can’t speculate as to why my brother Ian chose to resign.”
Brunton, the former CEO at Caribbean Airlines, will officially part company with LIAT within a month. Chief Financial Officer Julie Reifer-Jones will act as CEO until a replacement is found. She had previously sat in the CEO’s chair for one month last year when Brian Challenger left the carrier. [email protected]