Browne: Don’t hinder LIAT’s success

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St John’s – The Antigua and Barbuda government has promised to “fight” people it says are bent on preventing the restructuring of the cash-strapped regional airline, LIAT.

“All I have to say to them is that LIAT is bigger than them and the aviation sector is also bigger than them. We know that there is displacement. They have to allow us to build back LIAT and as we build it back there will be re-employment opportunities for them, but if some of those bad eggs are trying to pursue certain strategies to undermine LIAT, we’re going to fight them,” Prime Minister Gaston Browne said.

Speaking on his weekend radio programme, Browne, whose administration is leading the efforts to ensure the re-capitalisation of the airline, reiterated his position that a new LIAT should be leaner and profitable.

Earlier this month, Minister of Information, Melford Nicholas, said the financially-strapped regional airline, LIAT, which owes creditors in excess of EC$100 million is likely to return to the skies in November.

Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, St Vincent and the Grenadines and Dominica, the major shareholders of the airline, have written to the administrator agreeing to write off their debts estimated at nearly EC$70 million.

While he did not identify those “bad eggs” intent on hampering the revival of the airline, Browne told radio listeners it was important to have a leaner LIAT “that can sustain itself . . . that can assist with the connectivity that is needed within the Caribbean area and we are not going to allow any group of individuals to undermine what we are doing”.

He said that some of these individuals recently declared their distrust of him at a private meeting.

“They don’t have to trust me. Just know that what we are doing here and what my government is doing here is in the best interest of the people of Antigua and Barbuda. We’re not going to pay six, seven hundred people money every month to maintain a bloated LIAT that we cannot sustain and then we have to collapse it.

“We have to have a very lean LIAT going forward, one that can even turn a nominal profit and there is no other way that could happen. So, those of you who believe you can sit down and government sends you a check every month and pay you, it’s not going to happen.”

Browne said people owed severance and other terminal payments needed to understand that everything possible would be done to pay them, but that based on the poor financial shape of LIAT, these payments would not likely exceed ten per cent of the sums due.

He said that the restructuring process will consider if this can be increased and, if so, by what amount. “You’ve got to cooperate. You cannot be sending threats and all your snide remarks. The bad culture that we had in LIAT, we’re eliminating that. Going forward, LIAT will be a new, lean entity and we want disciplined people.

“Those bad practices helped to bankrupt LIAT over the years. My government is not going to stand for that kind of foolishness, and those of you who want to fight, we are willing to fight you all, Browne said, adding that he was confident in a new LIAT going forward.

“All I know is that LIAT is going back into the air and LIAT will be an efficient enterprise that will provide connectivity for the Caribbean people. So I’m telling you all do not stand in the way of national development,’ he said on the programme. (CMC)

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