It is not often that we agree with our Prime Minister (PM), the Honourable Gaston Browne. But right is right, and wrong is wrong, and we believe that on the LIAT issue, the PM is right, and Mia Mottley the PM of Barbados, and Dr. Ralph Gonsalves, the PM of St. Vincent and the Grenadines are wrong. And their behaviour is disappointing, to put it kindly. Despite our PM’s most valiant efforts, Mottley and Gonsalves, seem set on the go-it-alone path on which they’ve embarked, even as they’re preparing to pronounce the last rites on a venerable Caribbean institution – LIAT (1974) Ltd. Mind you, Barbados and St. Vincent and the Grenadines reaped huge sums of money from LIAT over the years, but rather than make a good faith effort to save the entity that had been so good to them, they are displaying an unbelievable level of ingratitude and selfishness. It is an unkind cut, and it is “sharper than a serpent’s tooth!”
PM Gonsalves is reportedly on record as dismissing talk about saving LIAT with a flippant suggestion that he has no time for “LIAT theatre.” Some of the six airlines that PM Mottley cited as being ready to fill the void left by LIAT are set to begin flying to a number of countries (Antigua excluded) in a matter of days. Our PM is left twisting in the wind, trying desperately to bring back LIAT from the dead, a la the biblical account of Jesus raising Lazarus from the Great Beyond.
Just this past Tuesday, PM Browne, in a meeting with union officials and LIAT workers, beseeched them, many with the downcast countenances of the bereaved attending a funeral, to take a 50% cut in severance payments. He said that by so doing, they would be contributing to the resurrection of LIAT. It is a tough and bitter pill to swallow, because by refusing to take the haircut, the workers would be ensuring the decomposition of LIAT, with nary a chance at a rebirth. And time is of the essence, lest rigor mortis set in. Our PM is asking for a response to his proposals from the union and the LIAT workers by Friday of this week. He had earlier suggested that he needed all of thirty days to bring LIAT back, like a “phoenix from the ashes.” If you recall from your study of Greek mythology, the phoenix bird, after crashing and burning in flames, would emerge from the ashes as a stronger bird. (Pun intended. LIAT is a bird) Our PM is resolute and hopeful. Remember, he has a meeting with the LIAT shareholder governments on Monday, 13th.
Of course, it will be a heavy lift. Mottley and Gonsalves have shown little enthusiasm for the LIAT renaissance as a smarter, stronger, leaner entity. They are prepared to embalm the corpse, while shouldering precious little of the burial costs. According to PM Browne, as reported in our DAILY OBSERVER [Wednesday 8th. July, 2020], “Two of the airline’s majority shareholders are prepared to walk away from all liabilities in LIAT, and in fact proposed that shareholding governments should not maintain any legal liability. They have however agreed to make compassionate severance payments to staff in their countries, which would result in Antigua and Barbuda paying $62M in severance, and $8M in other staff costs [to the Antiguan workers], while St. Vincent and the Grenadines for example, pays out about $1M.” Hmmmm!This partnership was clearly a leaky ship, and our PM agrees. He has described this lack of a shared responsibility as an unfair way to wrap this matter, as would an undertaker wrapping a body in a shroud. After all, while we had most of the employees, Barbados reaped most of the benefits, according to our PM.
To be sure, there are some here in our fair State who question our PM’s supposed lack of knowledge as to what was in the offing vis-à-vis the surcease of LIAT. He is a clever man, and he ought to have seen the thoughts and manoeuverings of his erstwhile shareholder ‘besties.’ There is a suggestion that he knew all along. We have not ascertained that that is in fact the case. The thing is that, based on Mottley’s declared willingness as far back as May of last year, to divest Barbados of a majority of its shares in LIAT (Barbados was only going to retain 10% of its 49%, thus making Antigua the largest shareholder government with 71%, contingent on Antigua buying all of the Barbados shares that were up for sale), he should have sensed the Bajan disinterest in LIAT. Mind you, he could have been fooled by Mottley’s vain remarks at the time that, “We want to make sure that we pursue that model of shared benefits and shared burdens.” [CARIBNEWS, May 22, 2019]. Sigh!
And let us not forget PM Gonsalves, the chairman of the shareholder governments, who’d already seemed prepared to pronounce a LIAT obituary earlier this year. We suggest that our PM ought to have seen the handwriting on the wall. Currently, the good PM Gonsalves is talking, with great excitement, if you will, about SVG Air and One Caribbean Airlines, two of his country’s airlines that he says will fill the void created by LIAT’s interment. Hmmmm! He shrugs and is quite guarded and apathetic when talking about a future LIAT.
And so it goes. No absolution of the dying. LIAT is mortally wounded. Indeed, for all intents and purposes, she is already ‘tiff-tone dead,’ on account of greedy and feckless governments and horrendous management. It will take a miracle on the order of “Lazarus come forth!” for a glorious resurrection. We are hopeful, never mind that the mood around these parts is like unto a wake.
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