EDITORIAL: Taxpayers deserve clarity on LIAT issue
GIVEN THE LEVEL OF FUNDING Barbados pumps into the regional airline LIAT (1974) Ltd annually, there ought to be greater accountability to the people of this country on the operations of this carrier. For too long, various administrations have treated the operations at LIAT as a closely guarded corporate secret. The public has been kept in the dark consistently and for too long on all aspects of the airline’s operations, including the amount of money it gets annually from the Barbados Treasury.
The occasional press briefing following a meeting of the Caribbean heads of government whose countries are shareholders is totally inadequate. Neither should the public only be alerted that something is wrong following the public disagreements with chief executive officers, disgruntled pilots or some regional politician speaking out against investing in the airline.
LIAT is but one of the businesses in which the Barbados Government has major investments, yet the taxpaying public is kept largely in the dark on its performance. This is not the behaviour expected of any company, public or private. LIAT’s annual financial statements, with the auditor’s statement, should be made available to the public. Even at this stage it cannot be too late to have these made public for the years 2010-2015.
No one can deny the importance of LIAT to the Barbados economy as the airline provides a multiplier effect and therefore helps to stimulate the economy. But, at the same time, LIAT’s policy objectives and its principles must be transparent to the wider public.
This demand for greater openness with LIAT’s operations is necessary for a number of reasons, but none more so than building the confidence of the public in the Eastern Caribbean and Guyana. The public does not want to become experts in the aviation industry, but are justifiably concerned about the frequent turnover of CEOs at LIAT, and why it is not reporting a profit given the drop in fuel prices and the introduction or increase in user fees. For those paying close attention to LIAT’s bottom line, they will reasonably ask: What does LIAT retain in each dollar per passenger as profit?
While LIAT, with its virtual monopoly on many routes, has an excellent safety record, its sustainability must be of concern to every taxpayer in Barbados who views it as being operated like another government department and not a private sector enterprise.
In the circumstances, Prime Minister Freundel Stuart has a duty to report on LIAT indicating whether it has the correct business model, if it has directors with the expertise to propel the airline and unequivocally how much money the airline needs and what this island is prepared to inject. He must also state clearly whether there is the purpose of focus amongst all the shareholder governments and if the airline can continue to be headquartered in Antigua.
Barbadian taxpayers must be given a full picture of LIAT.