Antigua Observer:- There are fresh calls for more Caribbean countries to consider investing in the Leeward Islands Air Transport (LIAT) even as it continues to reel from losses amounting to millions annually.
Prime Minister Gaston Browne said this was the consensus reached by Caribbean leaders who attended the just-concluded 30th Inter-sessional meeting of Heads of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) which was held in St. Kitts over a two-day period last week.
LIAT’s main shareholder governments are Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Dominica and St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
Browne said a move is now afoot to encourage the governments of St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia, Grenada and Guyana to come on board and purchase shares within LIAT.
“There is a need for us to have a model of shared burden, recognising that from time to time LIAT would need some level of support. We have recognised that LIAT is making a significant contribution, not only in terms of the connectivity of people within the region, but even the airport taxes, the landing charges and so on that are earned by the various governments,” Browne said during an interview on Pointe FM on Saturday.
He also stated that even if the cash-strapped airline is to collapse, it would have to replaced, underscoring the point that people have to be able to move within the region.
“The Caribbean Development Bank did a study some time last year in which they concluded that the most expensive option to pursue is to allow LIAT to collapse because we would have to form a new entity. That is just more expensive than having a restructuring of LIAT,” Browne said.
According to PM Browne, all the existing shareholder governments have committed to the restructuring of LIAT to include issues affecting staff, performance of management and to building a healthier culture within LIAT.
He stated further that the Government of Antigua and Barbuda has moved to amend the laws to make the regional carrier an essential service and that was one of the pre-requisites for the support of the various shareholder governments.
Barbados is LIAT’s major shareholder with 49.5 percent, Antigua and Barbuda 13 percent, St. Vincent 12 percent, and Dominica with less than 10 percent.
Meanwhile, the country’s leader is not taking too kindly to recent statements made by Trinidad and Tobago’s Prime Minister, Dr Keith Rowley.
On his return to Trinidad following the the CARICOM Heads meeting, Dr Rowley warned that LIAT has enough cash to function for the next 10 days and will face a shutdown if CARICOM does not intervene.
He also stated that the faltering airline needs an immediate cash injection of some US $5 million to keep flying.
In response PM Browne said: “The various governments continue to support LIAT to ensure that it stays within the air. Perhaps someone may have made a statement, I am not saying that without the support that LIAT could not collapse, but the reality is LIAT still has the support of the four shareholder governments and we will not allow it to collapse.”