As the future of the struggling regional airline LIAT hangs in the balance, Prime Minister Mia Mottley, has hinted that she has started discussions with one of the Caribbean’s development partners in Europe in that regard.
Stopping short of mentioning the airline by name, Mottley, who is the Lead Head of Government on the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) on the Single Market and Economy (CSME) in the CARICOM quasi-cabinet, said she had started discussions with the European Investment Bank (EIB) on possible funding for the regional “transportation sector”.
She was speaking with journalists recently at a media conference to provide an update on her recent overseas trip to Toronto and Montreal in Canada, and Washington and Miami in the United States.
While opting not to give specifics, Mottley said she met with Senior Vice President of the EIB Alexander Stubb, pointing out that the financial institution has assisted Barbados before in the water sector and it was willing to assist with regional projects.
“The EIB doesn’t only lend to the government, it also lends to private companies like the Barbados Light and Power in the past and it has also engaged here with not just national projects but also regional projects,” said Mottley.
“And as the lead Prime Minister for the single market and single economy, I also had to engage in discussions with them on opportunities within the transport sector in particular, with respect to the EIB and its role in the region,” she said.
Shareholder governments in LIAT have been pondering the future of the airline as it continues to restructure and call on governments whose countries benefit from its services to contribute.
Barbados is the majority shareholder. Other major shareholder governments are Antigua and Barbuda, where the airline is based, St Vincent and the Grenadines and Dominica.
When asked to share more information about the initial meetings with the EIB on transportation in the region, Mottley declined, but promised to do so in due course, adding that “running a government means going where the policy takes us, where the data takes us and where the information is”.
“The discussions with the EIB are preliminary but by the same token, there are very few entities that the region as a whole can borrow from with respect to regional projects. The Europeans, in spite of everything else, have remained engaged with us, they understand the dynamics of a single market because they themselves have literally managed a single market and single economy for decades. So, when we are ready to speak on that, rest assured we will be,” Mottley promised.
There have been mounting fears that LIAT, which employs more than 600 workers and services a network of 15 destinations, could be facing imminent closure if it did not get an urgent injection of funds.
Most of the fears have so far been expressed by St Vincent and the Grenadines Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves, who said most of the countries which use the airline’s services were not responding favourably to a request for US$5.4 million in order to ensure its survival.
While speaking on a Grenada Broadcasting Network programme recently, Gonsalves said Grenada was the only country so far to respond to the request by pumping in about EC$1 million (US$370,000).
In relation to Mottley’s overseas trip, which was mainly designed to promote Barbados as a favourable place to do business, the Prime Minister and her team also met with the Irish Minister of Finance to discuss opportunities for corporation and technical assistance, she said.
They also met with several individuals as well as officials from commercial banks, insurance companies, major accounting firms and the Barbados diaspora in Toronto and Washington, updating them on progress that were being made in the local economy.
As for Barbados’ future borrowing, Mottley said the country had four major primary partners – the EIB, the Inter-American Development Bank, the Caribbean Development Bank and the Development Bank of Latin America CAF – but insisted that “Barbados will do limited borrowing as we go forward”.