Pundits call for amicable end to LIAT dispute

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By Kadeem Joseph

There has been a strident call for diplomacy to prevail as efforts continue to return the regional carrier LIAT to the skies.

The pleas come after Prime Minister Gaston Browne chided St Vincent and the Grenadines and Barbados for allegedly discriminating against the carrier, after what he characterised as new stipulations that forced LIAT to suspend flights to those destinations.

The Prime Minister of St Vincent and the Grenadines, Dr Ralph Gonsalves, later said the suspension was due to failings on the part of the airline and the matter could have been handled with a discussion between both heads of government.

Speaking on the most recent Big Issues programme on Observer radio, professor in the Department of Government, Sociology and Social Work at The UWI Cave Hill, Dr George Brathwaite said such issues push Caribbean people to question the regional integration movement as individual member states’ interests overpower the collective interest.

“When prime ministers don’t always use the forum available to them, away from the public glare, they actually put things in a tailspin and that is why people will constantly question the utility of Caricom, the utility of this talk of regional integration,” he charged. “It has to be more than talk, there must be action.”

Dr Braithwaite believes the best way forward for LIAT, currently, is for the leaders of Antigua and Barbuda, St Vincent and the Grenadines, and Barbados to have an “amiable chat amongst themselves” and present a solution that puts the region and its people first.

Meanwhile, former ambassador and governance consultant Joan Underwood said the matter is “extremely unfortunate” and the responsibility for the subsequent fallout should fall on “those who put the issue in the public domain”.

“These are things that can be handled with conversations, one-on-one between the principals, and don’t have to play out in the public domain in a way that undermines confidence, not just in LIAT and the governments, but now we are having a conversation about whether or not Caricom is valid and I think that is extremely unfortunate,” she explained.

Underwood believes the recent fallout is an example of people being “hijacked by emotions” but their own and the emotions of others which she opines “serves no one well”.

Aviation consultant and former head of the Antigua and Barbuda Airport Authority, Gatesworth James said the matter should have been handled differently.

“I think it’s atrocious,” he said. “Prime Minister Browne and Gonsalves could be exchanging diplomatic notes on these issues and not on the airwaves.”

James said customers are looking for professionalism and smooth operations as the entity returns to the skies.

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