The news came as a blow to those who are interested in the cause of regionalism and easy travel around the Caribbean, and see LIAT as a critical cog in that wheel, a regional carrier worth saving. We’re referring to the highly anticipated meeting of LIAT shareholders that was scheduled for this past Monday. At that meeting, our Prime Minister, the Honourable Gaston Browne, was supposed to present a credible plan for saving the embattled regional carrier. As you can imagine, many concerned Caribbean folk were expecting the PM to summon all of his presumed financial wizardry to present a bold and visionary plan that would knock the socks off sceptical leaders like Dr. Ralph Gonsalves of St. Vincent and the Grenadines and Mia Mottley of Barbados. His was supposed to be a sales pitch for the ages. Alas, much to the disappointment of many, the meeting was postponed because the Barbados PM claimed, in effect, that she was too busy to make it. Ouch!
Clearly, that is not good news. In the minds of many, there is nothing currently more important, apart from the extant fight against the coronavirus, than a discussion of a serious and substantive plan on how LIAT can be saved /reborn. The uncertainty surrounding the fate of LIAT is not in the best interest of anyone. Sadly, Mottley does not seem to think that the future of LIAT is a high priority for Bajans. Indeed, she has already put in place her own mechanism for the movement of people into and out of Barbados. As has Dr. Ralph Gonsalves, who, even before Monday’s meeting, was on record as saying that, with or without LIAT, his administration will be going ahead with a plan to move people into and out of St. Vincent and the Grenadines. Seems, nobody cares.
LIAT was a perennial money loser, with over $100M in debt, and many governments within the region felt that they really did not wish to be party to the madness of throwing wads of money down the black hole of mismanagement, political interference and downright greed. As far back as 2015, the Timothy Harris administration in St. Kitts said no thanks to an invitation to become a major shareholder in LIAT. The Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago, Dr. Keith Rowley, said that his country, once a major shareholder in LIAT, really had no interest in whether LIAT came or went. Said he, “The Government of Barbados is responsible for speaking for Trinidad and Tobago with respect to that six percent of [our] shares. We are not involved at all in the LIAT business, and as of now, we have no plans to get involved in the LIAT arrangement.”
And don’t talk about the PM of St. Lucia, Allan Chastenet. He had already been lukewarm in his support for, and involvement with LIAT, and a photo of him with his arms folded in an aloof affect, whilst sitting alongside PMs, Mia Mottley, Gaston Browne and Dr. Gonsalves, who appear to be engaged in some sort of discussion, tells us all that we need to know about his thinking on regionalism, never mind the fate of the regional carrier. That picture spoke a thousand words. St. Lucia is not a major LIAT shareholder. As far back as May of last year, that’s when Grenada invested $1.3M in the embattled airline, Chastenet had said that he would not put a dime in LIAT unless there were some major changes in the way the carrier is operated. He is on record as saying in April of last year that, “It cannot be business as usual” with the way LIAT operates . . . “Even how it is governed must change.” We cannot argue with him on that score. And yes, at that time, he’d indicated that there were other carriers ready, willing and able to fill the void left by a defunct LIAT. Frankly, he was quite indifferent then, and he remains so.
It is not difficult to imagine that our good PM must be feeling much like Don Quixote who tilted at windmills in a bizarre one-man quest to save the world. Of course, nobody cared about Don Quixote and his mission, and it appears that in like manner, nobody, at the highest levels of the political directorate in the regional capitals, gives a rat’s derriere about LIAT. Indeed, it appears as though the Bajan PM was essentially giving our PM the kiss-off and telling him to shove it. Good grief! Think Rodney Dangerfield and his iconic refrain, “No respect!” Clearly, the sense of urgency displayed by our PM is not shared by the leaders of the major shareholder governments or the rest of the regional leaders for that matter. An important meeting to discuss a way forward for LIAT is postponed on account of Mottley’s busy schedule (tsk, tsk!), and they merely yawn, c’est la vie!
It seems as though LIAT, in some form or the other, will have to be primarily an Antiguan effort. It remains to be seen whether our PM can pull it off. There is talk in some circles of a public-private partnership with the private investor having 51% of the shares. Our PM has also suggested that all the shareholder governments take a 100% haircut on monies owed them by LIAT. He has also proposed that the workers take a 50% shave on monies due. Sigh! We feel their pain.We believe that LIAT has an important role to play in regional travel and the employment opportunities that that will afford. There are also manifold economic benefits to be had, and we just wish that the other shareholder governments would at least give our PM an open-minded hearing, and LIAT, a fair shot. Sadly, they seem disillusioned, and PM Browne is left on his own as the last knight-errant. Here’s hoping that his is not a quixotic quest.
In that regard we are wishing him every success in his plan to slay the dragon and save/reinvent the beleaguered airline. Maybe Mia Mottley will be not so busy next week.
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