Dominica’s Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit on Monday praised Antigua and Barbuda’s Prime Minister, Gaston Browne, for his efforts in keeping the inter-regional airline LIAT in the skies, but acknowledged the need for governments to invest in inter-regional travel.
“I recognised as Prime Minister of the country, the important and unprecedented role that LIAT has played and was playing at the time to intra-regional travel,” Skerrit told a news conference as he defended his administration’s decision a few years ago to become a shareholder in the debt-ridden airline.
He said LIAT was helpful to Dominica, especially after natural disasters “and I do not believe there is any other entity that can be reasonably expected to replace the functions of LIAT in the region.
“Governments investment in air transportation in the region cannot be replaced by private sector investments only. Governments must invest in inter-regional travel because inter-regional travel for so many islands is really a public good,” he said.
“While you want entities to run professionally and with great accountability and greater transparency, there are a set of things you don’t expect from them because they have to fly into areas that a commercial airline, running as a private investment will not want to go into, you understand and that’s where LIAT was important,” Skerrit added.
The Antigua-based LIAT (1974) Limited entered into administration in July 2020, following increased debt and the impact of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
But Browne said he now recognises that “Antigua and Barbuda is practically standing alone in terms of having an entity that is owned by a group of governments.
“What seems to be the prevailing thinking at this time is that most heads are of the view that there are sufficient assets within the region. In fact, there is a study that was done by the Caribbean Development Bank as well as the OECS (Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States) and that was the meeting I attended in St Lucia, and the consensus was that there are sufficient assets to service the region,” he said.
Browne said that there are “primarily private sector held assets and they don’t see the need for the governments to invest in any national airline or regional airline”.
LIAT, prior to entering into administration, had been servicing several regional destinations and has since scaled down its operations and is now servicing Anguilla, Antigua, Barbados, Dominica, Guyana, Grenada, Guadeloupe, Martinique, San Juan Puerto Rico, St Kitts, St Lucia and St Maarten.
In February, the Guyana government said while it has not given a commitment to investing in the cash-strapped regional airline, LIAT, it nonetheless wants to be “part of a solution for regional air transport”.