By Voice Reporter
THE Prime Ministers of Saint Lucia and Antigua & Barbuda are taking different positions on the same issue – and once more, each is clarifying what he originally meant vis-à-vis what was reported about what they said.
The two OECS leaders have previously crossed verbal swords on Caribbean Citizenship by Investment Programs (CIP) and they are also known to have different positions on the popular Sandals hotel chain.
This time around, the two leaders are being quoted as having taken similar position in support of LIAT — but the Saint Lucia leader is saying that’s not so.
Prime Minister Gaston Browne of Antigua and Barbuda was quoted by the Caribbean News Service as saying that the Governments of Saint Lucia and Grenada have had a common change of heart and have now agreed to subsidize the operations of LIAT.
According the news service report, Browne said that after years of dialogue, they (Saint Lucia and Grenada) now see it fit to support LIAT’s operations.
“Browne did not reveal the details of the contribution by these two governments, but said it was agreed to at the just-concluded OECS Authority meeting in Saint Lucia,” the news service said.
“The whole idea is to spread the burden and the benefits of LIAT,” Browne reportedly told a local radio station last Saturday.
“They have signaled that they are willing to come onboard to provide some financial subsidy to LIAT,” he said.
The governments of Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Dominica and St Vincent and the Grenadines are LIAT’s main shareholders and news that two other islands were now on board was being welcomed with some delight by the Antigua and Barbuda PM.
However, Saint Lucia is strongly denying the media reports that it has had a change of heart and mind on LIAT.
Prime Minister Allen Chastanet said (in response to the reports), “We support LIAT as a regional airline and remain committed to seeing the necessary restructuring and some real change in operations at LIAT.
“(But) we have been consistent in our position on LIAT, in that we propose that the airline operate on a strictly commercial basis.”
He maintained, however, that “We have not yet made a decision on subsidizing LIAT. What we have agreed to is a meeting to discuss some of the issues relevant to the airline.”
Chastanet said he was looking forward “to continued dialogue with the OECS and other stakeholders on the future of the airline.”
Meanwhile, Civil Aviation Minister Guy Joseph has also declared that Saint Lucia’s position on LIAT has never changed.
The minister told the local press he was at a recent Board of Governors meeting of the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB) where LIAT was discussed.
“The government of Saint Lucia’s position is that once the right decisions are made as it pertains to LIAT, the governments that need the services of LIAT would be willing to participate,” Joseph stated.
He recalled that Saint Lucia has consistently spoken about the structure of the airline and the way it is run, “which is why a lot of the countries, not just Saint Lucia, felt that the approach towards LIAT and the manner in which LIAT is being operated is not fair.”
Pinpointing some of his problems with LIAT, Joseph said, “It is not fair to me leaving Grenada for Saint Lucia and having to fly over past Saint Lucia to go to Barbados and then to take a flight back to Saint Lucia.”
He then asked: “Is it fair to me that I come off a flight and coming off the flight, I have to go through security?”
Joseph continued: “I go to the US and I don’t have to go through that when I go to any of the First World countries…but as Caribbean people that is what we have to go through, just because some tax must be collected at the airport…”
The Minister accepted that “LIAT is very vital to the region’s future growth and development.” However, he stressed that the airline “must be run properly like a business.”
Minister Joseph reiterated that Prime Minister Chastanet has made it clear that “if the right decisions are made, Saint Lucia would take the appropriate action required.”
But, he said, “No decision has been made regarding financial contributions to LIAT.”
But the Antigua and Barbuda Prime Minister has opened another round in the dispute over words and interpretations, issuing a statement yesterday (Wednesday) in which he went on to reiterate what he meant to say – that LIAT needs cash injections from interested governments if it is to become profitable.
The Antigua and Barbuda leader said while he understood and accepted the need for LIAT to be run profitably, the fact of the matter remained that the airline is not profitable.
He therefore invited Saint Lucia and other governments to join Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Dominica and St. Vincent and the Grenadines – the four governments with majority shares in the regional airline – and help inject the much-needed cash into its wings. (See the full text of the Antigua and Barbuda PM’s latest statement on Page 3)