ST JOHN’S – Prime Minister Gaston Browne says Barbados has agreed to sell almost all of its shares in the cash strapped regional airline, LIAT, to Antigua and Barbuda.
Prime Minister Browne, speaking on his private radio station, said that he had received communication from his Barbados counterpart Mia Mottley, indicating that Bridgetown was willing to sell all but ten per cent of its shares in the Antigua-based airline that serves 15 Caribbean destinations.
“The intent is not to exclude any country from participating in LIAT. In fact, as far as practicable we would want to broaden the shareholding in LIAT,” Browne told radio listeners.
Antigua and Barbuda currently holds 34 per cent of the shares and if it succeeds in convincing Bridgetown to part with its LIAT shares, would have 71 per cent of the airline.
“We got a response yesterday afternoon [Saturday] from the distinguished Prime Minister of Barbados, the Honourable Mia Mottley in which she indicated the willingness of Barbados to sell a significant portion of its shares.
“She indicated in the latter that they would want to retain at least ten per cent and that is certainly desirable because we want to make sure that we pursue that model of shared benefits and shared burdens. So the idea is not to divest Barbados of all of its shares,” Browne told radio listeners.
LIAT currently employs over 600 people and operates 491 flights weekly across 15 destinations and Browne said the idea is to have many Caribbean countries included in the ownership of LIAT.
The other shareholder governments are St Vincent and the Grenadines, Grenada and Dominica.
Earlier this month, the St. Vincent and the Grenadines Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves said that the shareholder governments had agreed to give further consideration to a proposal by Prime Minister Browne regarding the future direction of the airline.
Gonsalves told the Caribbean Media Corporation (CMC) that Antigua and Barbuda had made an oral presentation to the shareholders meeting and would present a written document over the next few days.
Gonsalves said he hopes that the proposal from Antigua and Barbuda would be discussed by the shareholders “before the end of May is out”.
St Lucia Prime Minister Allen Chastanet has said that Castries would not contribute any funds unless there’s a significant change to the airline’s structure.
Browne said his administration had already established a negotiating team and was now awaiting word from Bridgetown for the start of the negotiations.
“We are certainly ready, our team has been established and I have written back to her [Prime Minister Mottley] confirming that our team has been established,” he said.
Browne brushed aside criticisms that his administration was engaged in “one-up manism” with regards to the efforts to acquire LIAT shares from Barbados, pointing out a significant number of nationals are employed by the airline.
“And I know there are some who may see it as a form of one- up manship. There was not any form of one-up manship, it was about doing the practical thing to ensure the survivability of LIAT and to protect the Antiguan economy.
“The reality is we have about 400 workers here, LIAT employees and for us to have a situation where the airline is collapsed and with the potential of moving the headquarters to another country, I mean that would be catastrophic.
“So for those who may have taken my account to the people of Antigua and Barbuda as a personal attack, is a form of one-up manship or shouting across the Caribbean or bigging up my chest, there’s no such thing. It is just a practical solution to an emerging problem,” Browne told his radio listeners.
Barbados holds 49 per cent of LIAT shares with Antigua and Barbuda, having 34 per cent.
Grenada recently became the latest shareholder in LIAT and Gonzales has confirmed that St Kitts and Nevis had responded positively to the call for raising US$5.4 million to help the airline deal with its current financial problems. (CMC)