ANTIGUA and Barbuda Prime Minister Gaston Browne said he does not support a proposal for the majority shareholding in a new regional airline to be placed in the hands of foreign investors, as Caribbean Community (CARICOM) leaders get ready to discuss the future of the cash-strapped airline LIAT.
“We also had a proposal from investors… out of Nigeria and they had indicated an interest in purchasing 75 percent of the shares in LIAT. But the governments in the region are also interested in literally reviving LIAT and re-investing in LIAT.
“I think that is a superior option because the problem is if you have an entity outside of the region with the majority of the shares it would be just a matter of time before the price gouge us and we would be looking at the regional option,” Browne told listeners to his weekend radio programme here.
He said a meeting of regional leaders “is scheduled for not this Tuesday, but the following Tuesday… to discuss the way forward for LIAT and to determine how we structure it going forward.
“But in any event, we are pretty confident that LIAT will remain in the skies and that we will be able to scale up LIAT by whatever combination of shareholders we choose.
“But my preference is for the shareholding to remain in the region so that we have regional control and to avoid the type of price gouging that is likely to follow if the majority of shares end up in foreign hands,” Browne added.
Caribbean Community (Caricom) leaders at the summit in Suriname earlier this month, had agreed on a new modern Multilateral Air Services Agreement (MASA) that will allow for a new framework within which air transportation will operate in the region.
St Vincent and the Grenadines Prime Minister, Ralph Gonsalves, who had served as chairman of the Antigua-based LIAT, said that countries, particularly those in the Eastern Caribbean, were being severely affected by the loss of thousands of seats “because LIAT, as it was, is no longer before us.
He said a decision had been taken involving some regional countries to address the issue of a regional air carrier of some kind, which may well be the revival of LIAT in some form or the other, ”but we have to get a consultant in the area of aviation to put the framework together and some numbers as a matter of urgency for us to move on”.
Gonsalves said that such a meeting could possibly take place in either St Vincent and the Grenadines or St Lucia sometime in the period between the 28 and the end of July… to advance this question in a very practical manner”.
LIAT (1974) Ltd, which entered into administration in July 2020 following increased debt and the impact of the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic is owned by the governments of Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Dominica and St Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG).
Prime Minister Browne said previously that a decision had been taken that would allow Barbados and SVG to turn over their shares in LIAT to St John’s for one EC dollar (One EC dollar=US$0.37 cents).
Earlier this year, Browne appealed to Caribbean trade unions to re-think their positions regarding the latest offer made to laid-off workers of the airline.
The Antigua and Barbuda government said it was providing two million dollars “to meet partial satisfaction of the cash component of the compassionate pay-out” to former local employees of the regional airline.
Late last month, the Leeward Islands Airlines Pilots Association (LIALPA) said that terminated workers have been on the breadline since April 2020 and are in dire straits.
The airline, prior to entering into administration had been servicing several regional destinations, has scaled down its operations and is now servicing Anguilla, Antigua, Barbados, Dominica, Guyana, Grenada, Guadeloupe, Martinique, San Juan Puerto Rico, St Kitts, St Lucia and St Maarten. —CMC