Antigua Observer:– Prime Minister Gaston Browne has declared that issues surrounding LIAT are of regional interest and are not private matters or solely for shareholder governments.
Browne made these comments recently on a public platform following statements by Barbadian Prime Minister Mia Mottley that her Cabinet is yet to decide the future of its relationship with the cash-strapped carrier.
This was a week after PM Browne disclosed that the Barbadian leader has agreed to sell all but 10 percent of her country’s 49 percent share in LIAT.
Browne’s view is that everyone should be concerned about the fate of the regional carrier.
“Placing LIAT on the path of viability and sustainability is not for private discussion. You’re talking about an airline that is owned by several Caribbean countries, one in which we utilised taxpayer’s money to invest in LIAT and when it comes to public funds, I believe we all have an obligation.”
“I have tried my best to be accountable to the people of Antigua & Barbuda and I make no apologies about it,” he said.
Prime Minister Browne said he does not believe that he spoke out of turn about the current talks between himself and Prime Minister Mottley as it is his role as leader of the country to sensitise his citizens on matters concerning the nation.
“All I did was to indicate that she has so confirmed the willingness of Barbados to negotiate. That is all I’ve said, and I don’t know that there’s any bad form or there’s any talking across the Caribbean. I have a responsibility and a duty to the people of Antigua & Barbuda to account.”
In fact, Mottley told the Barbadian media, that when a decision is made, it will be done in Parliament and in no other forum.
Browne defended his position, saying that other information in the letter was never disclosed, as negotiations are ongoing.
He stated that the public was only informed about a letter dated May 16, 2019, in which Mottley indicated a willingness to divest some of Barbados’s shares.
“If it is that I was going to show bad form, I would have published the letter and I would have discussed publicly some of my own concerns, but I recognise that we have to allow the process of negotiations to take place and those concerns will be addressed.”
Prime Minister Browne gave insight into his plans for LIAT, which include reducing the carrier’s expenses. He added further that the government is making provisions for the expansion of LIAT and will be making use of the old VC Bird terminal building.
“What we plan to do is to extend a lease to LIAT and this will also help to reduce rental costs. I’m told that they spend in excess of a million dollars here in rental costs so by virtue of the Government of Antigua & Barbuda making that facility available to LIAT, that should help to reduce its operational costs.”
With regards to raising revenue, he said measures will be put in place to ensure that LIAT will no longer be porous with losses.
“There are some other areas where we are looking at to raise revenue and
we believe that we can revamp LIAT in such a way and to restructure it in such a way, to restructure it for it to become profitable and even if it makes a loss, that it will be a significantly reduced loss.”