By Orville Williams
Prime Minister Gaston Browne is of the belief that an adjustment to the corporate culture at regional airline LIAT will result in greater efficiency and increased sustainability going forward.
The company has rebounded somewhat from the threat of liquidation and is currently in the midst of a restructuring project, aimed at returning the airline to its former glory. Issues including staff severance and creditor agreements continue to pose concerns, while a successful short-to-medium-term future will likely require significant investment.
Speaking on Observer AM yesterday, Browne noted that, along with the demand he believes will remain in place for LIAT, improving the airline’s efficiency will prove a shrewd cost-effective measure.
“We are convinced that the demand for LIAT’s service – clearly, in a period of Covid [it] will be an aberration, but certainly post-Covid – will remain strong. The key issue is to have an efficiently-run LIAT. We have said to the administrator that he has to focus on changing the corporate culture of LIAT.
“Make sure it is not overmanned [or] overstaffed and at the same time, to ensure that the type of corporate culture is such that he gets the most efficient workers, those with the best attitudes, individuals that will go beyond the call of duty to ensure the viability of the airline … so that LIAT can have a new, sustainable corporate culture going forward,” Browne explained.
The PM also reiterated that discussions are underway to secure private sector investment for the carrier, but suggested that the government is prepared to go it alone if necessary.
“I can’t give any definitive timelines; the administrator is negotiating with a few prospective shareholders [but] we’re not sure if these negotiations will culminate in any viable deal. [However], with or without the private sector, we are determined to fund LIAT,” the PM said.
Speaking further on the future of the carrier, Browne explained the reasons behind a decision that would likely see the government take a minority stake in the restructured LIAT.
“Our economic policy calls for public/private sector partnerships for profit and invariably, we’d rather be in the minority position so that the private sector will be able to manage its political risk. The last thing you want is a government that is incompetent and, perhaps, a government that could abuse its majority position to destroy the model in the future.
“Even with [the] West Indies Oil Company in which we own 51 percent, we’re now seeking to reduce our shareholding below 50 percent, by selling 10 percent of the shares. By so doing, the private sector will be better able to manage its political risk,” Browne explained.
Late last year, the prime minister represented Antigua and Barbuda during a visit to Venezuela which saw the country’s induction into the ALBA Bank as a new member, along with the securing of a US$15.8 million loan toward LIAT.
Those funds were expected to boost the operations of the then-struggling airline, but Browne confirmed that they will instead be injected into the restructured LIAT to improve its continuity.
“It is [available] and we are absolutely committed to investing the full US$15 million in LIAT, in order to ensure its survivability.
“We are determined that LIAT should remain in the skies, we want to ensure that we have aviation as a significant export service for Antigua and Barbuda and LIAT is tasked with the responsibility of providing that service and at the same time, to provide connectivity for the Caribbean people,” Browne added.