By Carlena Knight
A former aviation minister – and current political opponent – is cautioning Prime Minister Gaston Browne against inadvertently closing doors on potential investments in regards to the rebirth of LIAT.
Although Harold Lovell agrees with Browne that the regional air carrier should be revitalised, he believes the way in which the PM has been going about it is not the best move.
Browne has recently lashed out at fellow regional shareholders – mainly Barbados and St Vincent and the Grenadines – accusing them of looking after their own interests rather than the good of the region as a whole.
“I don’t think that language is the sort of language we need at this time,” Lovell told Observer radio. “We are in a serious and a very difficult situation and you require at this stage the art of knowing what to say and how to say it and to whom to say it to.
“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 where Antigua needs as much goodwill as possible,” Lovell said.
In a statement earlier this week, Browne referred to the actions of some states as “reprehensible”. He went on to caution leaders against damaging regional institutions, saying it could be “LIAT today but it may be the OECS, Caricom Secretariat or some other regional institution in the near future”.
“As we collapse these institutions, we collapse the integration movement,” Browne said.
The government is already surging ahead with plans to reserve the name ‘LIAT 2020 Ltd’ for a new incarnation of the company.
Currently, the airline is funded by four OECS governments, but LIAT 2020 is expected to follow a new model of funding that invites private entities to invest in the new carrier.
Lovell backed inviting the private sector to participate but said it is time for the country to look after its own interests by “looking outside of the box” if this carrier will thrive once more as, according to him, “the country has many advantages that can be used as bargaining agents”.
“As far as Antigua and Barbuda is concerned, we have certain specific advantages,” he explained. “We have geography, right in the centre of the Caribbean. We have proximity to the United States. We speak English and most importantly we have the LIAT engineering facility which no one else has.
“We should be able to leverage our ability to set up an effective maintenance and repair facility. I’ve been speaking about Antigua and Barbuda’s need to shift our mindset from merely being an airline hub to an aviation centre.”
Properties such as the Pan Am base and Runaway 10, Lovell said, put the country in a favourable position to facilitate such a move.
He added that shifting the skillset of individuals to this new venture would broaden the scope of job opportunities available locally, and make the country a more enticing proposition for investors.