“Not an option!”
That was the declaration of former Antigua and Barbuda Prime Minister Lester Bird in response to a reported plan to replace regional airline LIAT with a Barbados-based airline, as he stood in solidarity with his country’s government.
The proposal, which surfaced last month, first drew the ire of Prime Minister Gaston Browne who described it as “treason”.
“I am in support of my Prime Minister,” Bird told listeners of St Kitts radio station WinnFM. “I am totally adverse to any notion of divesting or petitioning, or whatever words you want use, with LIAT.”
The former leader charged that the Antigua government had sacrificed and invested too much in the airline for such a move to be contemplated.
“So . . . any attempt by anybody to try and do that under the notion of divesting it and taking [planes] and giving them to Barbados and let them form new company, is totally anathema to the whole spirit of what we are trying to achieve and the fact that we took taxpayers’ money . . . It’s not a simple question as to who has the majority shares . . . We are still the second largest shareholder, it’s minority oppression, that’s what it is,” he said.
“One of the options cannot be to divest it and take off four of the ATRs and let Barbados go and form its own company; that cannot be an option!”
Bird was adamant that abandoning LIAT for a new Bajan airline would spit in the face of regional integration.
“I believe that LIAT is a quintessential to our integration process and you can’t just divest it like that,” he said.
Like Browne, Bird called for the removal of LIAT’s chief executive officer David Evans if it was found that he was the one who spearheaded the plan.
“If, in fact, the person who suggested this is the person who is in charge of LIAT now he should be fired, that is my opinion,” he said.
He further warned that if the proposal became reality, it would “put a serious kink in the whole notion of trying to unify the Caribbean”.
Bird charged that it was not the first time attempts had been made to take LIAT away from Antigua.
“I can recall that there was an attempt to sell LIAT to a Mr Hodson in Barbados . . . I had to fly from New York to Nassau for the Heads of Government meeting to prevent LIAT from being sold for $200 million,” he charged, noting that occurred even when Antigua had the most shares in the airline.
Barbados is currently the largest LIAT shareholder.
While neither Prime Minister Freundel Stuart nor Minister of Tourism and International Transport Richard Sealy have reacted to Browne or Bird’s comments, Minister of Commerce Donville Inniss has chastised the Antiguan leader for saying the creation of a Bajan airline to replace LIAT would be treason.
Although saying he did not know whether the proposal was true, Inniss told Barbados TODAY that Browne needed to “take a breath” and have a “sober” conversation with his regional counterparts, instead of making “undiplomatic and outlandish statements”.