Antigua Observer:– The government of Barbados has agreed to sell “a significant portion” of its 49 percent interest in the cash-strapped regional airline, LIAT.
Prime Minister Gaston Browne has confirmed receipt of a letter from Barbados’ Prime Minister Mia Mottley expressing a willingness to sell a portion of that country’s shares, but retaining at least 10 percent.
PM Browne made the announcement on his radio station on the weekend and in a subsequent interview with OBSERVER media on Sunday.
The nation’s leader said the shares from Barbados will add to the 34 percent shares which Antigua and Barbuda currently owns in the regional carrier and while that may place the twin island state in a majority position, the intention is to ensure that more individuals are able to invest in the carrier.
“I am not to sure what the ongoing negotiating would result in, whether or not our shares will increase by 10, 15 or 20 percent, I do not want to anticipate the final outcome of the negotiations.
“It is probably that Antigua and Barbuda could end up in a majority position, but it does not necessarily mean that we will hold onto majority position. We may want to encourage other countries within the Caribbean to come onboard and even divesting some of those shares,” Browne said.
He also stressed that, “Considering that there was a decision to collapse LIAT and to have a smaller operation”, the government had to move to protect the interest of workers and the local economy.
Earlier this month, Browne made the formal offer to Barbados to acquire its shares in LIAT through a take-over of the liability of Barbados to the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB) from which monies had been borrowed to purchase planes for the airline. The official offer followed a recent meeting of the airline’s shareholder governments at which Mottley was not present.
Going forward, the government will be establishing a negotiating team comprising of Aviation Minister Sir Robin Yearwood, Minister of State in the Ministry of Finance Lennox Weston, along with another unnamed official, to commence talks with a team from Barbados.
“What we want to do is to ensure that we have full participation of all the governments, if possible, and at the same time to enlarge LIAT’s operation,” Browne re-emphasized.
Last Wednesday, Prime Minister Mia Mottley stopped short of indicating whether or not her administration would dispose of its 49 percent interest in the airline, declaring instead that she would not be having any discussions in the public domain.
LIAT currently employs over 600 people – most of whom are based in Antigua – and operates 491 flights weekly across 15 destinations. Its other shareholders are the governments of Dominica, St. Vincent and the Grenadines and, recently, Grenada. St. Kitts and Nevis has lately indicated an interest in also become a shareholder.