Stand-off over LIAT to keep Antigua from Caricom meeting

Stand-off over LIAT to keep Antigua from Caricom meeting

Friday, July 03, 2020

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BRIDGETOWN, Barbados (CMC) — Antigua and Barbuda will not be represented at Friday's special conference of Caribbean Community (Caricom) leaders, where Barbados Prime Minister Mia Mottley is to hand over the chairmanship of the 15-member regional grouping to her St Vincent and the Grenadines counterpart, Dr Ralph Gonsalves.

The Guyana-based Caricom Secretariat had earlier this week announced that the regional leaders will host their 20th Special Meeting via videoconference beginning at 10:00 am (local time) after they had agreed during their Ninth Special Meeting in April to stage the handing-over ceremony at the beginning of July.

The Caribbean Media Corporation (CMC) has been reliably informed that the Gaston Browne Administration will not be represented at the meeting where regional leaders are expected to also address a number of procedural matters.

CMC understands that the Antigua and Barbuda's position is linked to the efforts to liquidate the financially strapped regional airline, LIAT, which is headquartered in St John's. The shareholder governments are Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Dominica and St Vincent and the Grenadines.

“There are some regional leaders who see our regional institution, carrier, LIAT, as a 'predator' and they are determined to keep their knees on its neck to prevent its regeneration,” Prime Minister Brown wrote on his Facebook page.

“Their espoused values about regional integration are in congruent with their insular actions,” he wrote, adding “it is with a heavy heart that I add if this insularity hidden in intellectual subterfuge is allowed to continue unabated, the Caricom and OECS (Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States) integration institutions shall wither and die”.

Browne later told CMC that “there is a conspiracy by a few regional leaders to stymie the resurgence of LIAT, as a new entity to provide air connectivity for the Caribbean people and to move tourists within our region”.

He was perhaps making reference to an advertisement where commuters were being encouraged to travel on flights operated by “OCL Barbados LTD”, and indicating “flights now available for Caribbean destinations”.

The flights, which are due to begin on July 12, is promising commuters in Grenada, St Lucia, Dominica, St Vincent, Barbados, Guyana and Tortola, fares as low as US$99 plus taxes and giving telephone contact numbers in St Vincent and the Grenadines for the 'One Love, One Caribbean' initiative.

Meanwhile, the Antigua and Barbuda Government said Cabinet on Wednesday “held a fulsome discussion on the future of LIAT 1974 Ltd” and that it is “developing a plan for a new LIAT, which includes an invitation to private entities to invest in that new carrier.

“In keeping with the requirements set out by the shareholder governments, that plan is to be developed in the shortest possible time and to be ready in a few days. The Antigua and Barbuda Government is committed to investing an amount of US$15,000,000 to US$20,000,000 towards the new LIAT,” according to a statement issued following the Cabinet meeting.

It said that the conditions of the loan secured prior to the coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis requires that the borrowed resources be invested in LIAT.

“A decision was taken to have the Registrar of Companies in Antigua and Barbuda, acting under the Companies Act, to reserve the LIAT 2020 Ltd new company name. Antigua and Barbuda stands opposed to the liquidation of LIAT 1974 Ltd without a plan to create the necessary connectivity which regional integration requires,” the statement said.

It said that staff members of LIAT, numbering more than 800 throughout the region, and more than 500 in Antigua are very worried about their future.

The statement said that the Cabinet was informed that the cost and distribution of severance among the shareholders will be assessed.

Browne told CMC that the liabilities should be settled based on shareholding.

“They have argued legal point that shareholder governments have no legal liability and that a compassionate severance should be paid, based on collective agreements. This will leave Antigua with EC$62 million of the EC$83 million liability,” he told CMC.

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