Prime Minister Gaston Browne has disclosed that the US$44 million price Barbados was asking for its LIAT shares was too steep, insisting that while his government wanted a bigger stake in the regional airline, it had no intention of “giving away money”.
Negotiating teams from both countries recently met in Barbados to begin talks on Antigua securing the majority of the 49.4 per cent shareholding that Bridgetown currently has in the carrier. Neither team made any official statement after the discussions, although media reports in Barbados indicated that talks had broken down.
But speaking on his radio station, Browne disclosed that Barbados put a US$44 million price tag on the shares.
“I understand mathematics and I understand percentages, and I also understand value for money. So if we were to settle at US$44 million, that would be a steal for Barbados, and we are not in the process of giving away money. We are in the process of creating value and to get fair value for the people of Antigua and Barbuda, so as far as I am concerned – and I have said this to the Prime Minister of Barbados because she knows my thinking – discussions cannot start at US$44 million. She knows my position and has since come down,” he said.
Antigua had said that it would seek to acquire Barbados’ LIAT shares through a take-over of the country’s liability to the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB), from which monies had been borrowed to purchase planes. Browne had said the aim was to finance keeping the three planes owned by the CDB, since Barbados was prepared to sell them.
The Antiguan Prime Minister therefore expressed his disappointment that the government’s negotiating team, comprised of Lennox Weston, Sir Robin Yearwood and a representative from the Ministry of Finance, had even considered accepting the Barbados US$44 million proposal.
“We oppose the sale of the planes to pay off the debt so rather than selling the planes to a third party, Antigua and Barbuda said it would step in and assume Barbados’ shares associated with the acquisition of the planes. That’s a simple matter….Unfortunately, my team got involved in some kind of sophisticated negotiations which would have resulted in a settlement of US$44 million. I don’t understand that kind of maths,” he said.
Antigua and Barbuda currently has 34 per cent shareholding in LIAT. The other major shareholding governments are St Vincent and the Grenadines, Dominica and Grenada. The remaining shareholders are made up of private companies, other Caribbean governments and employees.