Last year, Antigua’s Prime Minister Gaston Browne made a clarion call to regional colleagues to invest in the ever cash-strapped airline LIAT. The governments of Grenada and St. Kitts and Nevis both responded favourably, each committing to provide EC$1 million. In an interview with the STAR on March 13, 2019, Prime Minister Allen Chastanet said his government would not consider investing in LIAT unless there were significant changes in the airline’s operation. He referenced a Caribbean Development Bank study that suggested three options: restructure the entity; privatize; or shutdown. If Saint Lucia were to buy shares, Chastanet said, the shares would need to be in an entity free to make whatever commercial decisions must be made.Prime Minister Allen Chastanet is confident that the appointment of Owen Arthur bodes well for the struggling airline.
“I don’t mind being a shareholder, going to my annual shareholder meeting, and if in fact the management are not doing a good job then you fire management. I don’t believe governments themselves should be involved in the day-to-day operations of the airline. That’s certainly not what appears to be in practice right now and so certainly Saint Lucia would not be interested in taking shares in LIAT as currently constructed.” Chastanet added that LIAT’s board must comprise people “that understand how to run an airline business”.
On January 9, LIAT announced the appointment of a board of directors headed by former Barbados Prime Minister Owen Arthur, currently serving as a professor at the University of the West Indies. LIAT highlighted that the new board brings over 100 years of combined aviation experience. Said LIAT in a statement: “The new chairman has been tasked by the new board to undertake a special assignment to meet with regional prime ministers to discuss sustainability of the airline. This assignment will be supported by other directors and the management team of the airline.” Last December, the company announced that Dr. Jean Holder—who served as its director and chairman for 16 years —had retired.
On Monday Prime Minister Allen Chastanet strongly supported the appointment of Arthur— whom he considers “very capable”. But that didn’t mean a change of attitude on the part of Saint Lucia’s prime minister. At any rate, not until Arthur has made necessary changes. Chastanet seemed to be anticipating structural changes to LIAT.
“We have to be satisfied that the tough decisions that have to be made in LIAT are going to be made,” said Chastanet. “There are a lot of adjustments and structural changes that have to take place and I think that it’s a good signal in having former prime minister Arthur there, because he is a no nonsense person and he has very good commercial sense as well. If there’s any person that could potentially break this deadlock, I think he’s that person. Saint Lucia is very hopeful that something can come of this new decision.”
In a bid to recapitalize the airline, Prime Minister Gaston Browne secured a US $15.8 million loan from Venezuelan bank, Banco del ALBA last November. The Antigua government, which holds 34% shares in the airline, is also negotiating to purchase the majority of Barbados’ 49% share ownership.
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Hardly had the last word of Prime Minister Allen Chastanet’s New Year’s speech been spoken, than a typically unimaginative video appeared on social media, suggesting the prime minister had put the brakes on further work on the uncompleted St Jude, in the best interests of his father Sir Michael. Asked to comment this week, Sir Michael’s reaction was more of sadness than anything else. “I’ve always campaigned for a big medical university in Saint Lucia,” he said. “When I was chairman of Invest Saint Lucia and when I held that position at the NEC, during the period 2002 and 2006. Dr. Kenny Anthony was then the country’s prime minister. “With Dr. Anthony’s enthusiastic encouragement, I consulted with the architect Neville Skeete about a medical university on the land between St Jude Hospital and the brewery. We also held negotiations with Ross University, then based in Dominica, and with St. Georges University in connection with a start-up operation. In all fairness to Kenny Anthony he was all for it and gave us full authority to go ahead.” Chastanet revealed that a significant portion of Grenada’s GDP is associated with its medical school, “which I wanted to see happen here in Saint Lucia, regardless of which party is in office”.
He recalled that although he had worked long and hard with Sir John, it was Dr. Anthony who had rewarded him with the OBE, not Compton. As for the propaganda video, Sir Michael said, “All this nonsense including threats to my family proves yet again that the Labour Party is concerned more with power than with Saint Lucia’s development. They help create the worst images of Saint Lucia and Saint Lucians generally. How can a prime minister say publicly that an election is between his party and a family? This sort of thing disgusts most Saint Lucians. After all, who knows which family will next be targeted for destruction?”
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Should Pigeon Island be transformed into a version of Cuba’s Tropicana? Prime Minister Allen Chastanet believes so, stating that the venue could host evening shows and benefit greatly from tourism. Addressing his disapproval of Jeannine Compton-Antoine as Trust director last month, the prime minister said he felt a new director should be commercially minded, enough to recognize the need to marry conservation and development.
He lamented that over the past 25 years, the Tourist Board had spent in excess of $20 million assembling and breaking down stages at Pigeon Island and questioned whether or not the money wouldn’t have been better spent on the construction of a theatre that would allow the Trust to host shows and raise revenue. The prime minister insists that the Trust has sufficient assets to render it at least close to self-sustaining.Outgoing Trust director Bishnu Tulsie recently reminded reporters that the organisation was made to conserve and preserve and that such work is “not based on commercial considerations”.
At a January 9 press conference, retiring Trust director Bishnu Tulsie revisited the 1972 creation of the causeway. At that time, Tulsie said, there was a lot of pressure to develop Pigeon Island and construct buildings on the site. Then premier Sir John Compton realized that unless something was done Pigeon Island would be lost. “So it goes way back that Pigeon Island was viewed as, and is still viewed as, a place of history and memory, and one that should be preserved for that purpose,” Tulsie said. The setting up of condominiums —adding to the wall and gate—is not the right move, he opined.
“We understand the prime minister’s point about raising revenue but we must balance that with impact,” said the director. “We had 38 events at Pigeon Island last year. On occasion we had to cordon off a certain part of the lawn because of the extent of the impact. So we’ve got to approach this in a way that is sensible. We should never lose sight of the fact that Pigeon Island is part of our history and should be accessible to everyone. We will have to continue to disagree with the prime minister on that one because, at the end of the day, we were created to conserve and preserve.”
Council Chair Allison King announced that the Trust has conceptualized a number of ideas that could potentially generate revenue. They were submitted before the last budget, King said, but there was no response. They have therefore been re-submitted for the upcoming financial year. King said that the Trust agrees with the prime minister’s suggestion of a permanent stage, but would want it to be sympathetic to the environment and not be intrusive. A design proposal has also been submitted.
As to whether the Trust should be dependent on state funding, Tulsie said that, based on research, the SLNT is the only Trust in the world that does not receive support from the government where it is located. Said Tulsie: “Saint Lucia is first in many things; this is another one we’re first in. Our work is not based on commercial considerations; it’s based on conservation considerations but we understand the need to generate revenue based on what we do.”
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