The Opposition United Progressive Party (UPP) has made good on its promise to deliver a petition to the Governor General, asking that he launch an inquiry into Antigua Airways.
On Wednesday morning, a delegation of about 10 people, including Opposition MP’s, and members of the clergy, hand-delivered the petition signed by thousands of residents to Sir Rodney Williams.
UPP Legal Advisor Leon Chaku Symister told Observer that thousands of people indicated that they want the inquiry to clear the country’s name, in what he said has become a regional and worldwide issue for Antigua and Barbuda
“The country is now being looked at as a place where persons are transhipped to the United States. Some are of the view that migrant smuggling or human trafficking is taking place, and that is something we don’t want our country’s name to be associated with” he said
He said that the government seems to be sending contradictory messages about Antigua Airways.
“We think that based on the information we are getting from the government, only a full public inquiry into this matter will set the record straight…” he added.
Last month, a boat smuggling 30 Cameroonians from Antigua and Barbuda to St Thomas capsized off the coast of St Kitts and Nevis.
Some of the Africans arrived here on chartered flights aboard Antigua Airways, following an agreement with the Gaston Browne administration.
The government took some responsibility for the situation that has developed, but he maintained that having flights between the Caribbean and Africa will have benefits.
Symister said however that the families of those who lost their lives should have some closure to what happened.
“It is important to note that we were told that Antigua and Barbuda has a 20% share in Antigua Airways, and we were told that our share represented 10 CIP files. Later, we were told that Antigua Airways was defunct. Then we were told we never gave them the files. There are just too many questions…” he added.
Symister says the UPP will raise funds to offset the cost of the endeavour if needed.
“We know that a Commission of Inquiry has a cost to it, and we know the government has consistently claimed that it has no money. We are ready to raise money to help finance such an inquiry if money is an issue,” he added
The Eastern Caribbean Civil Aviation Authority (ECCAA) halted Antigua Airways’ charter operations in Antigua and Barbuda because it did not comply with regulatory requirements.
It is also the government’s intention to resume operations between St John’s and Lagos Nigeria to connect the Caribbean with Africa in the future.