BASSETERRE, St. Kitts and Nevis, February 27, 2019 (CMC) – Antigua and Barbuda Prime Minister, Gaston Browne, says shareholder-governments need to do what is necessary, in order to save the financially-strapped regional airline, LIAT, amid speculation that there could be budget cuts at the Antigua and Barbuda-based company.
Browne, who is, here, attending the 30th inter-sessional meeting of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), did not confirm that the airline is about to implement the cost-cutting measure, as had been speculated by the Leeward Islands Air Pilot Association (LIAPA).
“Whatever is necessary to save LIAT will be quintessential for all stakeholders to cooperate. It does not matter the sacrifice that is required, we all have to make sure that we play a role to keep LIAT in the air,” he reasoned.
LIAT’s main shareholder governments are Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Dominica and St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and Browne said that the airline is “absolutely important for connectivity, for air transportation within the region, and sacrifices have to be made; and those sacrifices should be made readily, by all stakeholders”.
Asked to confirm whether budget cuts were on the horizon, Browne replied “what I can say, here, is that whatever is required to keep LIAT in the air; that all stakeholders must be prepared to sacrifice accordingly”.
Browne added that Barbados is also facing a serious financial situation, and “I think what they are concerned about, is taking on additional debt”.
“LIAT has debt at the Caribbean Development Bank, that is asking the four shareholder-governments to take over. Antigua and Barbuda has readily agreed to assume US$16 million of that debt. I think Barbados is saying it has an IMF program and there’s some difficulty; but I am pretty sure that, in order to save LIAT, they will go the extra mile and that they will take over their portion of the debt,” he said.
Barbados, last year, entered into a US$290 million Extended Fund Facility (EFF) with the Washington-based financial institution, aimed at turning around its ailing economy.
Browne said he was also prepared to ask the other shareholder-governments to follow suit.
“Absolutely, LIAT is an essential service. Can’t have an integrated movement…and not have the ability to be able to move people,” he added.