The prime minister made her comments in response to a question about LIAT, after addressing the 59th Annual General Meeting of the Barbados Employers’ Confederation, at the Lloyd Erskine Sandiford Centre.
It was recently stated that the Antigua and Barbuda Government had made a formal offer to Barbados to acquire its shares in the cash-strapped regional airline, LIAT.
However, the Prime Minister said: “I can assure you and the country that we are working on this every day. But you also have to take the reality of an existence as you find it, and then determine whether the modality that you have is the best mechanism by which to deliver on that objective….
“Sufficed to say that the Government of Barbados at the appropriate time, when discussions are concluded with stakeholders at all levels, will speak to the country. Sufficed to say that by whatever means we choose, whether existing or other, there will be a commitment to providing affordable, reliable air travel between those in the Caribbean because without that we accept that there will be a serious constraint on our people….”
Ms. Mottley said she had refused to shout across the region on the LIAT issue.
“I have been in public life long enough to know that when discussions are at a sensitive stage, that the worst thing that you can do is up the ante by trying to have some kind of public expression that may well lead to hardened positions and an inability for people to negotiate in good faith,” she stated.
Last week, Antigua and Barbuda prime minister Gaston Browne, officially submitted a proposal to the authorities in Barbados expressing an interest in acquiring its shares in LIAT .
“We are looking towards the sustainability and viability of LIAT. We now have to await a response from Barbados and then we will develop an action plan on the way forward,” he said.
LIAT is saddled with at least USD60 million worth of debt, owed primarily to the Barbados-based Caribbean Development Bank (CDB). It currently operates five ATR72-600s (all leased) and five ATR42-600s (two on operating leases from Nordic Aviation Capital) to make 491 weekly flights across 15 destinations, according to the ch-aviation capacity module.
Its five shareholders, Antigua & Barbuda, Barbados, Dominica, St Vincent & the Grenadines and, most recently, Grenada, have agreed to consider a proposal by Browne that would find a way to finance the retention of three ATR42-600s that are officially owned by the CDB, according to a CMC report.
Earlier this week, Lionel Hurst, chief of staff in the Antiguan government, backed a LIAT bail-out proposal he said had emanated from Virgin Atlantic founder Richard Branson, which highlights an expansion of LIAT rather than downsizing.
This goes against a competing vision for LIAT's future by the Barbados government that would sell two of the ATR42-600s and use the cash to start up another airline based primarily in the southern Caribbean.
Ralph Gonsalves, Vincentian Prime Minister and chairman of the LIAT Shareholders Government Group, has said that there is support among shareholders for both ways forward and that all proposals including Browne's would be discussed by the shareholders before the end of May.
Gonsalves however denied any knowledge of expressions of interest in LIAT by Bronson. He said what he was aware of was a proposal by chief of staff in the Antigua and Barbuda government, Lionel Hurst, who had told the St Kitts radio station WINNFM earlier this month, that Branson had proposed injecting several million dollars to “wet lease several aircraft” and to “very likely” fly from Fort Lauderdale Int'l to various Caribbean destinations and “enlarge LIAT” rather than collapse it or make it a smaller entity.
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