Antigua and Barbuda Prime Minister Gaston Browne Tuesday described as “inescapable” discussions with fellow Caribbean Community (CARICOM) leaders on the future direction of the inter-regional airline, LIAT, when they meet in Trinidad and Tobago next week.
The leaders will be meeting from July 3 to 5 for their annual summit, which coincides with the 50th anniversary of the regional integration grouping.
Browne has been among those in the forefront seeking to reverse the fortunes of the Antigua-based airline, which entered into administration in July 2020 following increased debt and the impact of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
Its main shareholder are the governments of Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Dominica and St Vincent and the Grenadines and regional trade unions say their members are owed millions of dollars in severance payments and other benefits.
“It is inescapable, we have to discuss the issue of transportation. I know that there are many countries within the integration movement which see this issue as, I would say an insular issue, but again, I think LIAT should be respected as a CARICOM institution and that they should be a regional commitment to re-stirring it in the interest of Caribbean people”
Browne said that LIAT is needed for greater connectivity “and to ensure that Caribbean people could move and move readily.
“You cannot have a successful integration movement if the people cannot move,” he said, adding “I am just hoping we can go past the insularity and the national priorities”.
Browne said that there are “regional competing forces that would like to see the demise of LIAT” but it is important to recognise the importance of the airline that could complement the efforts of the Trinidad-based Caribbean Airlines (CAL).
“And that ultimately some form of publicly funded transportation will be critical to achieving sustainable transportation in the region. This flawed notion that we must rely exclusively on private sector assets, it is not a sustainable solution and Antigua and Barbuda believes that ultimately a re-organised, capitalised LIAT, a new LIAT leaving all of the legacy issues behind. One that will operate professionally, one that will operate on a profit basis that will be the answer to our regional transportation woes.”