Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda, Gaston Brown has announced plans to liquidate the regional carrier, LIAT.
Browne, who the announcement on Saturday said a new entity will be formed and a meeting of all shareholders will be held shortly to discuss the matter.
“COVID would have actually, let’s say increased the losses exponentially, so whereas in all of 2019 LIAT made a loss of about EC$12 million, that was within the means of the shareholder governments to subsidise,” said Browne who was speaking on local radio.
“You would have found that since COVID, the planes have been grounded, they have to pay the lease payments and they are not getting any revenue. A decision will have to be made to collapse it and then maybe the countries within the region will have to come together to form a new entity.”
He added that the region cannot move forward without a form of connectivity and “you cannot have an integration movement if people cannot connect.”
“What I’m hoping that we do not have going forward with the new entity, is any squabble over the location of the headquarters, at the end of the day, the only service that Antigua and Barbuda has enjoyed … within CARICOM (Caribbean Community) is LIAT and this has been the case for several decades.
“So I just hope that we are not going to have countries within the region opportunistically fighting us to get the headquarters in their country to displace Antigua and Barbuda,” he said, while adding that the formation of the new airline must be done swiftly.
According to Browne, LIAT does not have sufficient assets to satisfy the requirements or claims of most of its creditors, including the airline’s employees.
“LIAT only owns three planes and those planes are charged to the Caribbean Development Bank, (CDB), so clearly they have a superior claim and after they would have covered their claim there will be hardly any assets available to liquidate severance and other liabilities to staff and other creditors, so there has to be a negotiated position.”
Concerning the fate of employees, he said the governments “won’t be bandits and just walk away from the staff, they will have to pay some form of compassionate payments to assist them. But they have to understand that they are legally vulnerable and that they have to look at the bigger picture and to cooperate, not to become litigious and to prevent the creation of a new LIAT.”
According to the Prime Minister, the new carrier will be much leaner that the current LIAT, which employs hundreds throughout the region and there will be significant job losses.
He also said that the new entity will retain the name LIAT. “We should not be running away from the name LIAT – LIAT is a Caribbean institution built by Caribbean people of which we should be proud.”