By Demion McTair. Updated 6:10 p.m., Friday May 8, 2020, Atlantic Standard Time (GMT-4).
Kingstown, St. Vincent (ONE NEWS SVG) – Opposition Leader, Dr. Godwin Friday, has slammed as “outrageous”, the USD $1,339 price per student proposed to Vincentian students in Jamaica for a one-way chartered flight.
Dr. Friday was responding to a question today (May 8), from Public Relations Officer of the opposition New Democratic Party – NDP, Lavern King, about the Vincentian students’ situation.
Dr. Friday said “the students want to come home and the only thing standing in their way is the airfare, which is 1,339 USD for a one-way flight from Jamaica to St. Vincent”.
“I mean, that is ridiculous. That is utterly ridiculous. I know that LIAT is expensive in the region but this is outrageous” – Dr. Friday added.
The students received correspondence on May 5, from Honorary Consul, June Barbour with the quoted price for a charter from LIAT, which stated that each student would pay USD $1,339, if 56 students are willing to travel on the proposed flight.
The total cost of the charter for 56 students would be US $75,000 for one aircraft. This is a “discounted rate” from the US$101, 420, the correspondence stated.
But, Dr. Friday decried the cost of the proposed flight to the students, saying that LIAT received $2.7 million dollars from St. Vincent and the Grenadines “as part of the Covid relief stimulus package” which the opposition voted for on April 7.
“In the Parliament on the 7th of April when we voted, we voted for the stimulus package even though we had some concerns about it and I raised this issue with LIAT. We gave LIAT $2.7 million dollars as part of the Covid relief stimulus package, a regional airline, we gave them 2.7 million dollars and we can’t find the money to bring our students home?” – Dr Friday said.
“The very most those students should be paying is what they normally would pay, if they had not been affected by Covid-19, and I am told that that’s about $400 US dollars per person and then the rest of it should be subsidized by LIAT, and by the government.” – Dr. Friday further stated.
The Vincentian students are currently stuck on campuses in Jamaica, which have all moved classes online for the rest of the semester, eliminating the need for them to be on the campuses.
One News SVG understands that for a considerable number of them, their housing contracts will expire on or about May 15, thus attracting daily rate housing fees thereafter.
As Jamaica’s borders remain closed as a Covid-19 containment measure, taking chartered flights is the only flight option to leave the country at this time.
Students have said that they cannot afford to cover the cost, which is nearly four times the regular one-way airfare price.
One News SVG was informed that the Honorary Consul for St. Vincent to Jamaica, and members of the executive of the Vincentian Students’ Association of Jamaica – VINSA, have been negotiating with at least two airlines to get the students home.
Students from some other Caribbean countries, including St. Kitts and Nevis and Antigua and Barbuda, have left Jamaica recently on LIAT charters, while some students from other Caribbean countries, including Trinidad and Tobago, and The Bahamas, remain on the campuses.
Dr Friday, in his remarks today, weighed in on the actions by other governments regarding their students in Jamaica.
“St. Kitts paid the entire $75,000 US dollars to take its students home. If St. Kitts can do this because they recognize the value of their students, why we can’t do in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, meet the students where they can afford it”. – he said
“They have budgeted already for the fare to come home, $400 US dollars, that is what… the most that we should require them to do, in fact, having paid LIAT $2.7 million dollars as part of the stimulus package, as part of Covid relief” – the Opposition Leader added.
Dr. Friday said that the stimulus money should be used to subsidize the students to come home.