ST JOHN’S, Antigua, Monday May 20, 2019 – Barbados is willing to sell the majority of its 49 per cent stake in regional airline LIAT to Antigua and Barbuda, but it doesn’t want to give up all its interests.
That’s according to Antigua and Barbuda’s Prime Minister Gaston Browne, who said Barbados’ Prime Minister Mia Mottley has indicated her government is willing to give up “a significant portion” of its shares.
But the Mottley-led administration has so far only confirmed that it has invited a negotiating team from Antigua to discuss the matter.
Speaking on his local radio station yesterday, Browne, who last week confirmed that his government had made a formal offer to Barbados to purchase the LIAT shares, said he had received a response from Mottley on Saturday afternoon.
“She indicated the willingness of Barbados to sell a significant portion of its shares. She indicated in the letter that they would want to retain at least 10 per cent, and that is certainly desirable, because we want to make sure that we want to pursue that model of shared benefit and shared burden,” he said.
“The intent is not to exclude any country from participating in LIAT. In fact, as far as practicable, we would want to broaden the shareholding of LIAT to include as many Caribbean countries as possible.”
But just as she did when Browne first publicly spoke about the offer, Mottley has declined to say more on what Barbados’ position is.
Her press secretary Roy Morris would only confirm to online newspaper Barbados Today that Mottley had responded to Browne’s letter by inviting her Antiguan counterpart to “send a team to Barbados to talk”.
“In the meanwhile, Barbados will not prejudice those talks by making any further statement on the matter,” Morris added.
Prime Minister Browne said a three-member negotiation team had already been identified – Lennox Weston, Sir Robin Yearwood and a representative from the Ministry of Finance.
He said they were ready to start negotiations as soon as Barbados has its own team in place and advises of its availability to commence the talks.
Antigua and Barbuda currently owns 34 per cent of the shares in LIAT, and purchasing some of the Barbados’ shares would mean it would take over from that country as the majority shareholder.
But Browne shied away from predicting how much the twin-island nation would get.
“I am not too sure what the negotiating would result in – whether or not our shares will increase by 10, 15 or 20 per cent. I do not want to anticipate the final outcome of the negotiations. It is probable that Antigua and Barbuda could end up in a majority position, but it does not necessarily mean that we will hold on to majority position. We may want to encourage other countries within the Caribbean to come on board and even divesting some of those shares,” he said.
Minister Browne stressed that the move to acquire the shares was not any
attempt at “one-manship” but was made in his country’s and LIAT’s best
“It was about doing the practical thing to ensure the survivability of LIAT and to protect the Antiguan economy. The reality is we have about 400 workers here – LIAT employees – and for us to have a situation in which the airline is collapsed and with the potential of moving the headquarters to another country, I mean, that would be catastrophic,” he said.
“So for those who may have taken my account to the people of Antigua and Barbuda as a personal attack, as a form of one-upmanship or shouting across the Caribbean or bigging up my chest, there’s no such thing. It is just a practical solution to an emerging problem.”