Outspoken Minister of Commerce Donville Inniss has told Antigua and Barbuda’s Prime Minister Gaston Browne to “take a breath” and have a “sober” conversation with his regional counterparts about LIAT, instead of making “undiplomatic and outlandish statements”.
His comments in an interview with Barbados TODAY follow Browne describing as “treason”, a reported plan to replace the Antigua-based LIAT with a Barbados-owned carrier.
It was at the end of last month that reports began circulating that a proposal had been put to Barbados, the major LIAT shareholder, to establish an airline. Browne’s reaction was swift, as he said such a move was not “in the spirit of good relations” and warned that he would be seeking the resignation of LIAT’s chief executive officer David Evans if he was the one who spearheaded the plan.
However, Inniss blasted Browne, whose government is one of four LIAT shareholders, saying his comments were “very strong” and could be considered “very damaging to regional integration”.
“As a Prime Minister you don’t accuse your colleagues of other countries of acting in a manner that can be considered to be treason; you come to the table and sit and discuss these issues,” he said.
“I think Prime Minister Gaston Browne would be well advised to take a deep breath, pick up the phone and call Prime Minister [Ralph] Gonsalves, Prime Minister [Freundel] Stuart and Prime Minister [Roosevelt] Skerrit and have a very sober and reasoned discussion about LIAT and the future of LIAT,” he added, referring to the leaders of shareholder governments St Vincent and the Grenadines, Barbados and Dominica.
Addressing the decision made at a meeting of shareholders in Barbados to move the bulk of the airline’s operations to Barbados – a move Browne is also resisting – Inniss said “Antigua was duly represented” at the meeting by its minister responsible for aviation Robin Yearwood and the decision was “very fair, balanced and reasonable”.
“So my advice to my friend Gaston Browne is ‘don’t make such undiplomatic and outlandish statements to your fellow Prime Ministers’,” he said.
Describing LIAT’s current structure as unsustainable and “a burden to taxpayers”, Inniss said that as a minister who had to deal with “constant complaints” from businesspeople in Barbados regarding LIAT when it came to the movement of goods and people around the region, he agreed with any plans to restructure the airline.
However, he declined to comment on the reported move to establish a Barbadian airline.
“I don’t know if it is true or not,” he said.
Inniss directed Barbados TODAY to Prime Minister Freundel Stuart and Minister of Tourism and International Transport Richard Sealy but efforts to reach either were unsuccessful.
When asked whether he would support a Barbadian airline, Inniss said: “Whatever decision my Prime Minister and colleague of International Transport take you can rest assured that they will have my support.”
But Inniss insisted that was not the matter at hand.
“The issue here is that Antiguans, like Barbadians, need to accept that LIAT as currently structured and operating cannot continue,” the minister said.
Businessmen Robert Pitcher and Ralph Bizzy Williams have both poured cold water on the idea of Barbados setting up its own airline.