Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda Gaston Browne.
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St John’s – Prime Minister Gaston Browne says the financially strapped airline, LIAT, should not become a “prey for no rinky dinky airline” as he continued to press for Caribbean governments to rethink their position regarding the liquidation of the airline.
Last week, the major shareholders – Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Dominica, and St Vincent and the Grenadines – announced plans for the liquidation of the Antigua-based airline, but St John’s has publicly opposed the move saying that the airline, despite its financial problems should be remodelled and recapitalised.
Browne has already indicated that he has asked the Registrar of companies to reserve the name LIAT 2020 for the new initiative and that EC$20 million had already been secured in a bid to get the new company in flight.
Browne said that the safety of LIAT has become an envy of its competitors, warning “if we are not careful, first of all they afraid of LIAT’s brand recognition and that’s why they want to kill it".
“LIAT has a strong brand recognition and it has extensive presence which obviously gives us that opportunity to consolidate the sub-regional air transportation sector. But if we are not careful the decentralisation that I see taking place and which some heads are pushing for and end up with a whole heap of small rinky dinky airlines and you will see reduction in service quality, you will also see a reduction in passenger comfort,” Browne said, noting that there is a question mark about the safety record of one of the airlines seeking to replace LIAT.
Browne, speaking on his radio station over the last weekend, said that when the topic of LIAT’s possible liquidation was first raised at a meeting of shareholders, he was prevented from discussing two possible alternatives.
He said he left with the understanding that a meeting for June 29 would have discussed the collapse of LIAT 1974 Ltd, and plans to start a new company.
Browne said that alarm bells were raised in St John’s when they noticed that the agenda for that June 29 meeting spoke only about the liquidation of LIAT and the implications for regional travel.
“[There was] nothing about the formation of a new entity, which caught me by surprise,” Browne said, adding “I was surprised that certain deals were cut without even notifying me as a significant shareholder in LIAT.
“You prevented me as Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda [from making] representation for a new entity at our shareholding meeting, and now we’re having a broader one, you constructed an agenda to avoid the issue about a new entity, but to speak about the impact on intra-regional travel.,” Browne told radio listeners.
Meanwhile, Dominica’s Minister of Tourism, Denise Charles, sad the “unfortunate” position of LIAT has raised “some anxiety in the market, but I want to make all Dominicans and all potential travellers to Dominica . . . that the gap LIAT has created, has also created an opportunity for many other agencies”.
She said that the Roosevelt Skerrit administration has “received over five proposals which we are assessing and we will be able to make an announcement once we have completed our assessment".
“So rest assured air access to Dominica will not be limited, in fact it may actually expand,” she added. (CMC)