The members of the shareholding board of LIAT, participated as directors over the years and presided over most of major decisions of LIAT, including the ill fated refleeting. The liquidation of LIAT without settling liabilities should be resisted by creditors and other stakeholders. The possibility of legal action to stop the liquidation and protect the interest of creditors should not be ruled out. The state has an obligation to protect, not hide behind legal arguments and exploit vulnerable creditors.Instead, minority shareholders and Creditors should call for a reorganization plan. This plan would see the right sizing of LIAT and a work out situation with creditors. All shareholder governments should write off landing and other fees owed to them and the staff and other creditors should take a hair cut to facilitate the reorganization of LIAT. If a bloated inefficient LIAT could have made a small loss of 12M last year, it stands to reason that a lean reorganized LIAT could make a profit.
While a reorganized LIAT should be structured to turn a profit and reduce the burden on governments for a subsidy, kindly note that the benefit of a regional airline should not be determined exclusively by its profitability, but by its economic contribution and air connectivity value to the region. Existing shareholders should be given the opportunity to surrender their shares, if they do not wish to participate in the new reorganized LIAT and members of the private sector and all governments that are willing to participate in the new entity should be given the opportunity to do so. To deny them this option, represents a suppression of other stakeholders interests. Antigua & Barbuda stands ready to invest $40-$54M in the reorganized LIAT and there are other governments and private interests that are willing to invest in the reorganized LIAT.
The reorganization plan will preserve route rights, including rights to US territories. Some jobs will be saved, new jobs created as the reorganized institution grows and air connectivity for Caribbean people will be assured. This will bring to an end the present chaos and confusion that the majority shareholding group is pursuing. The restructuring will also have to look at the suitability of the fleet to service the region. A mixed fleet of 42 seaters and 19 seat twin ottos is likely to be the best mix. The 72 seaters should be returned to the Lessors, they are beyond our means. This mixed fleet will ensure both the northern and southern corridors are adequately served. The above is a doable plan, resulting in a win win solution for all stakeholders.
Therefore, we strongly recommend the reconsideration of the proposed liquidation and to allow the pursuance of a reorganization LIAT in the interest of all stakeholders. If we fail to do so, then every state is likely to establish a national airline, without viability and sustainability. The airline industry is so capital intensive, it its beyond the means of any singular state, or the private sector to sustain an airline, that could meet the air connectivity needs of the region. With the current pandemic, which will make our individual states more vulnerable, this is a time for true integration in action and not merely in words. The benefits of the integration movement should be shared in keeping with the objectives of the Caricom and OECS integration institutions.
Petty jealousies and the Poaching of each other’s business entities during a time of crisis should be discouraged. Instead, we should use our talent, intellect and creativity to attract foreign direct investments to supplement domestic investments.
Finally, the subterfuge, to hide behind legal arguments and flawed opinions to kill LIAT as a perceived “predatory” airline, in pursuance of insular objectives will not work. One of the outcome of such decision is a weakening of regional integration and less commitment to sustaining regional institutions. We should be careful with the precedents we establish. It’s LIAT today, but it may be the OECS, Caricom Sectetariat, or some other regional institution that may suffer a similar fate in the near future. As we collapse these institutions, we collapse the integration movemen
Ultimately, LIAT will rise again like a phoenix from the ashes. We will never allow anyone, or group of insular Caribbean leaders to kill this important regional institution.
Let’s come together as stakeholders and reorganize LIAT, in the spirit of true Caricom integration and in the interest of all.
Prime Minister Gaston Browne