BASSETERRE, St. Kitts, Feb 27, 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-based company.
Browne, who was 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 said.
LIAT 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 scarcities should be made readily by all stakeholders”.
Asked to confirm whether budget cuts were on the horizon, Browne said: “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 said 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 programme 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.”
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.