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(ANTIGUA NEWS ROOM) — Prime Minister Gaston Browne says Antigua and Barbuda is prepared to acquire further shares in the cash-strapped regional airline but is unwilling to pay an estimated US$44 million being asked by Barbados for the sale of its shares in the airline.
The two countries have been holding discussions on the acquisition of the shares and last week, Browne told the Caribbean Media Corporation (CMC) that the talks were still ongoing despite media reports in Bridgetown that they had broken down.
Speaking on a radio programme here, Prime Minister Browne told radio listeners if St. John’s had to settle at the asking price of US$44 million “that would be a steal for Barbados.
“We are not in the process of giving away money. We are in the process of creating value and to get fair value for the people of Antigua and Barbuda, so as far as I am concerned, and I have said this to the Prime Minister of Barbados (Mia Mottley), so she knows my thinking, telling her that discussions cannot start at US$44 million.
“So she knows the position and she has since come down,” Browne said, adding that he was looking to an amicable settlement of the negotiations and in the event that does occur, his administration is prepared to invest directly in the airline.
“And my colleagues will tell you that it was always my first option. The issue though about buying Barbados’ shares came about as a result of an impasse in which Barbados said it could not go any further, sell the planes, we said, look we cannot be a successful shrinking LIAT.
“We do not accept that and that’s the case, lets negotiate and we will buy all or some of the shares and they said they will sell up to 90 per cent of the shares. If we are unable to come to a satisfactory compromise then we will just put in our money and buy those shares and we can still get a majority position which is not necessarily what we are fighting for,” he said.
Antigua and Barbuda currently holds 34 per cent of the shares and if it succeeds in convincing Bridgetown to part with its LIAT shares, would have 81 per cent of the airline that employs over 600 people and operates 491 flights weekly across 15 destinations.
St. John’s said it would seek to acquire the LIAT shares owned by Barbados, through a take-over of the liability of Barbados to the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB).
During the radio programme, Prime Minister acknowledged that there’s a back and forth situation over a particular matter.
‘What we are saying here, we oppose the sale of the planes to pay off the debt so rather than selling the planes to a third party, Antigua and Barbuda says it would step in and assume Barbados’ shares associated with the acquisition of the planes.
“That’s a simple matter I understand okay. Unfortunately my (negotiating) team got involved in some kind of sophisticated negotiations which would have resulted in a settlement of 44 million. I don’t understand that kind of maths.”
He said what occurred initially is that the negotiation team “based on initial discussions had agreed on a proposal that was put forward. Barbados government had put forward a proposal for settlement at US$44 million and I am told that initially that our negotiating team agreed”.
He said he was disappointed that the negotiating team would have contemplated agreeing to the US$44 million.
“I understand mathematics, I understand percentages and I also understand value for money and I know if we were to settle at US$44 million that would be a steal for Barbados,” he added.