Antigua Offers To Buy Barbados Shares In LIAT

ST JOHN’S – The Antigua and Barbuda government has made a formal offer to Barbados to acquire its shares in the cash-strapped regional airline, LIAT.

A statement issued following the weekly Cabinet meeting said that “Prime Minister Gaston Browne indicated to the Cabinet members that he has written to Prime Minister Mia Mottley on the LIAT restructuring plan”.

The brief statement said that “an offer was made for Antigua and Barbuda to acquire the LIAT shares owned by Barbados, through a take-over of the liability of Barbados to the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB)”.

The statement did not say when the letter had been written but added “no reaction has yet been received”.

Last week, St Vincent and the Grenadines Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves said that the shareholder governments – Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Dominica and St Vincent and the Grenadines – agreed to give further consideration to a proposal by Prime Minister Browne regarding the future direction of the airline.

Gonsalves said that Antigua and Barbuda had made an oral presentation to the shareholders meeting and would present a written document over the next few days.

“The Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda presented orally a proposal and the proposal would be put into writing within a week and this proposal involves among other things a particular way to finance the keeping of the three planes owned by the CDB.”

Gonsalves said he hopes that the proposal from Antigua and Barbuda would be discussed by the shareholders “before the end of May is out”.

Last Friday, Attorney General Steadroy “Cutie” Benjamin said that St John’s was prepared to purchase the shares owned by the Barbados government.

“My understanding is that the Barbados government may be thinking of ridding themselves of the shares of LIAT. If that is in fact so then we will take them up, I am sure of that,” he said in Trinidad, where he had been attending a special Caribbean Community (CARICOM) summit on security.

Mottley was also present at that conference and did not officially comment on the statement by Benjamin.

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 serves 15 destinations in the region.

The Antigua and Barbuda government chief of staff, Lionel Max Hurst has said that “there are many jobs here in Antigua and Barbuda connected to LIAT and we intend to ensure that those jobs are not lost. Many of the route rights that LIAT now possesses would be utilized more fully if Antigua and Barbuda gets its way,” Hurst said.

The shareholder governments have been asking other Caribbean governments to provide financial assistance to the airline.

Earlier this week, Grenada said it had become the latest shareholder in LIAT and Gonzales has confirmed that St Kitts and Nevis had responded positively to the call for raising US$5.4 million to help the airline deal with its current financial problems.

St Lucia Prime Minister Allen Chastanet said last week that Castries would not contribute any funds unless there’s a significant change to the airline’s structure. (CMC)