The main opposition party in Antigua and Barbuda, the United Progressive Party (UPP) is blasting Prime Minister Gaston Browne for his handling of the LIAT issue.
UPP political leader, Harold Lovell, said Browne lacks the skill required to get consensus among his colleague prime ministers, including Dominica’s Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit, on the beleaguered airline.
In an open letter this week, Browne said if the majority shareholding group of LIAT is opportunistically allowed to collapse this regional institution and form a new entity without honouring the institution’s liabilities to creditors, this will be a form of “State banditry.”
He warned the other major shareholder governments of LIAT that if they do not reconsider their decision to liquidate LIAT and instead, reorganize the airline, the Antigua and Barbuda government intends to launch “LIAT 2020 Ltd as soon as possible.”
But Lovell, who is the former aviation minister, said this is not the type of language that is needed at this time.
“We’re in a very serious and very difficult situation and you require, at this stage, the art of knowing what to say, when to say it and to whom to say it,” Lovell said.
“I recall in 1974, the then premier of Antigua and Barbuda, George Walter, he was able to get not only Venezuela, but he was able to get 11 CARICOM countries to come together to really rescue LIAT at the time. The famous 1974 bailout. That required a certain amount of skill where you know how to bring people together in order to get the desired result.
“When you start using the type of language that the Prime Minister likes to use, I don’t think you begin to open doors. You close doors, and this is a time when Antigua really needs as much goodwill as possible,” Lovell added.
Pointing out that “we are going down the wrong track,” Lovell said he had ministerial responsibility for LIAT for a five-year period, and he knows what’s needed at this time.
Meantime, with its regional airline, LIAT slated for liquidation the Caribbean is looking to outside resources to help maintain air connectivity among the islands.
Speaking during a CARICOM Special Conference, outgoing Chair and Barbados Prime Minister, Mia Mottley, noted that at least six airlines from the region are keen to back-fill the capacity gap from LIAT’s collapse.
Incoming CARICOM Chair, Dr. Ralph Gonsalves of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, echoed those thoughts.
Antigua and Barbuda Prime Minister Gaston Browne skipped the meeting in protest of what he describes as “a conspiracy by a few regional leaders to stymie the resurgence of LIAT as a new entity to provide air connectivity for the Caribbean people and to move tourists within our region.” Browne’s goal is the recapitalization of LIAT as an Antigua-based airline, just as it has operated for the past several decades.
The airline is owned by seven Caribbean governments, with the major shareholders being Barbados, Antigua & Barbuda, St. Vincent and the Grenadines and Dominica (94.7 %). Other Caribbean governments, private shareholders and employees own 5.3% of the shares.
The full letter from PM Browne is attached.