By Caribbean News Now contributor
ST JOHN’S, Antigua — At a news conference Tuesday following the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS), two-day meeting, the dominant concerns were matters relating to LIAT’s future, Scotiabank divestment to Republic Financial Holdings Limited and regional leadership.
Prime Minister of Dominica Roosevelt Skerrit reiterated that the regional private sector and other stakeholders should consider ownership interest in LIAT and the continued development of the region.
“It is not enough to just say well LIAT is this, LIAT is that – come to the table. If you are not around the table it is going to be very difficult for you to influence the decisions,” Skerrit said. “And so, if you are a party to the negotiations, if you are a party to something, then the ideas which you have can very well find themselves turn into decisions.”
“We just have to close our eyes for a few seconds and appreciate the impact on the way of life of ordinary citizens and businesses in this region if LIAT were to cease its operations … there are economic consequences,” adding, “I think the regional private sector needs to join forces with the governments and all of us in the region need to join forces.”
“LIAT is a very critical part of our survival in Dominica and you cannot remove the airline from the equation. We continue to be a shareholder and Dominica will play a bigger role in LIAT,” he said.
This follows Skerrit’s decision earlier this year to commit Dominica to the “sustainability and sustenance” of LIAT in recognition of the significant economic impact on Dominica’s housing revolution, citizenship by investment (CIP) and the tourism industry.
Prime minister of Antigua and Barbuda Gaston Browne said that while his country is soon to start negotiations with Barbados to purchase its shares in the airline, “we have others who we are having discussions with” referencing, he would be speaking with the premier of the British Virgin Islands (BVI), Andrew Fahie.
Browne is of the view that everyone should be concern about the fate of the regional carrier, placing it towards a path of viability and sustainability.
“We are in a situation where we [Antigua and Barbuda] have offered to take over, if not all, a significant majority of the debts of Barbados and it is not a share grab on the part of Antigua and Barbuda,” noting, Barbados is in a precarious economic situation under the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Extended Fund Facility (EFF) to help restore debt sustainability, strengthen the external position and improve growth prospects.
Concerning Republic Financial Holdings Limited announcement last November, that it has agreed to acquire Scotiabank’s operations in the Eastern Caribbean, both Skerrit and Browne proposition that, the best interest of the people is of paramount importance, “all actions taken should protect the citizens.”
Browne also requires assurances that local banks will be given priority to purchase the Scotiabank’s operations in Antigua and Barbuda and that local customers’ investments and saving will be protected.
In a letter to the competent authorities of the Bank of Nova Scotia and copied to the chairman of the board of Republic Financial Holdings Limited of Trinidad and Tobago Browne stated: “The government of Antigua and Barbuda makes it clear that its primary concern is to build resilience in the local banking sector and reduce its vulnerability to de-risking strategies employed by foreign-owned entities that weaken our national capacity to participate in the global financial and trading system effectively.”
He added, “It is important that the ownership of the vital banking sector be re-balanced to improve the strength and capacity of local shareholding. This in no way affects foreign-owned banks that now operate in Antigua and Barbuda.”
Commenting on the transition of Browne, as the new chairman of the OECS, Skerrit made it abruptly clear that Browne has been “very firm and very resolute, a decisive and principled voice on many regional an international issue.”
He is “constructive and focused” Skerrit emphasised, “In this world, we really need principled, forthright, transparent governments and leaders. Had it not been for reasoned voices like [Gaston] Browne, I think the region and the hemisphere would be in a more difficult position.”
“The region is better off with people like [Gaston] Browne leading our countries,” Skerrit said.