Ex CAL Chairman blasts Dookeran on airline losses

(Trinidad Express) Former Caribbean Airlines (CAL) chairman George Nicholas has lashed out at Finance Minister Winston Dookeran, saying he has “failed his people”.

Nicholas’ rebuke comes after Dookeran disclosed the unhealthy financial position of the airline Nicholas chaired for 16 months.

CAL lost TT$339.5 million in 2011.

Dookeran disclosed the losses and the level of indebtedness of the national carrier in answer to a question from Opposition Leader Dr Keith Rowley in Parliament at Tower D, International Waterfront Centre, on Friday.

“The publication of the thoughts of Minister Winston Dookeran, a Finance Minister who has failed his people and in particular the hard working people of CAL cannot be left without response for fear that someone might think that his…ill thought-out comments are true,” said Nicholas in a statement yesterday.

He described Dookeran’s statement in Parliament, in which he listed the debts owed by the national carrier, as without “context”, “wholly misleading” and “conveniently selected facts”.

Nicholas, who resigned from the national carrier on April 3 in a letter to Dookeran, issued a two-page statement yesterday titled “CAL truth.”

He said when he reported “the hope and expectation that we would close the year with a TT$200 million profit” for the airline, that the “report was based on the figures that management presented showing an US$18 profit to that time”.

In Nicholas’ view, Dookeran’s change of the fuel subsidy affected the airline’s profitability and cast doubt on his statement.

“In November 2011 the fuel subsidy was reduced without consultation by the Minister and the price CAL had to pay was retroactively increased, as from January 2011. The increase, which was an attempt to play politics with the livelihood of all those who work so hard for CAL, was an increase of 50 per cent (where fuel is 80 per cent of the airline’s cost) to TT$2.34. The airline did over TT$2.4 billion in revenue last year. Passengers and freight would have paid for flights throughout 2011 on the basis of tickets calculated at the former fuel price. CAL would not be able to make up the loss that this would generate and that wiped out the prospective profit and caused an unanticipated loss. Had we then known the fuel price, the cost of fares would have been different. Interestingly the fuel price has been reduced to TT$1.50 for the year 2012,” Nicholas explained.

He chastised Dookeran for his “lack of candidness” because it was Dookeran’s ministry which did “not fully pay the subsidy in any event at the old rate or the new rate during the year, CAL was constantly having to go with its begging bowl seeking the money that it was entitled to receive”.

He said the “purchase of Air Jamaica (which was subsumed into the CAL family without regard to the cost burden on CAL), and the ATRs’ purchase” were decisions made by the Government prior to his appointment at CAL.

In his defence of money which was never paid to the Children’s Life Fund, Nicholas said the Fund was heralded at the Heads of Government meeting in Grenada and had adopted a marketing programme similar to that used by other airlines.

He said the board he inherited had not filed financials for a considerable period and “they left many bills unpaid, something that warrants more political attention but is ignored at the expense of making rather pathetic cheap political and personal jibes”.

He advised that “the achievements of CAL, as most business people will appreciate, will result not only in the company meeting the GORTT’s objectives for Trinidad and Tobago, but also enabling it to be owned by investors again rather than being a burden on the ever pressured taxpayer.”

Asked to comment on Nicholas’ statement yesterday, Transport Minister Devant Maharaj said it was “unfortunate” that he felt the need to come out and defend himself because he was handling the matter.

At an event in Tunapuna yesterday, Dookeran also declined comment on Nicholas’ statements.

 

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