Every effort must be taken to ensure the survival of the regional carrier LIAT.
This was emphasised by Prime Minister Freundel Stuart, as he spoke to the media at the start of day four of the 34th Regular Conference of Heads of Government of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) at the Hilton Hotel in Port of Spain.
Giving an update on the matter of regional transportation as one of the key items discussed, Mr Stuart pointed out that since Barbados was the largest shareholder in LIAT, the future of the carrier was of ???great concern to him???, especially in light of the fact that Caribbean Airlines (CAL) was being subsidized by the Government of Trinidad and Tobago.
??? Now what has happened in recent times is that against the background of the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas and its provisions it has emerged that CAL has been buying its fuel at $50 dollars per barrel, while LIAT has had to buy its fuel at upwards a $100 a barrel.
???Now, in other words, the Government of Trinidad and Tobago is subsidizing CAL for the purchase of its fuel and is competing with LIAT on regional routes. As far as we are concerned and we have discussed it at many LIAT meetings, that this is competitive behaviour and it???s against the spirit of the revised Treaty of Chaguaramas, and we have been engaging the government of Trinidad on that issue,??? he explained.
Mr. Stuart disclosed that this issue had been under discussion ???for some time??? and that it was critical an amicable solution could be made as soon as possible.
???What other issues LIAT has we can deal with, shareholder governments can deal with. Barbados, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Antigua, and more recently, Dominica has come on board. We can deal with those issues; but on the issue of a subsidy we have to have a resolution on that issue,??? he noted.
The Prime Minister said the matter was so important to Barbados that Government had taken the precaution of getting a legal opinion done. He stated that that ???legal opinion has left us in no doubt that we are on good ground in terms of how we feel and what we???ve been saying about that subsidy. And we got the legal opinion done because it is possible for us to approach the Caribbean Court of Justice in the exercise of its original jurisdiction… which permits it to interpret the Treaty and make decisions on that basis.
???… LIAT is now about 57 years old. It has seen many airlines come and go. Some come with the expressed purpose of trying to run LIAT out of business. LIAT has seen them come and seen them go and LIAT has remained and does about 1,000 flights in this region a week, keeping these islands together.
???You only have to ask yourself, what would the Caribbean be like without LIAT, to get a sense of how important it is, because there is no other airline that has done and is doing the work in this region that LIAT is doing.
???So, it is a matter of great importance to us and that is why Barbados continues to invest heavily in LIAT. Of course, CARICOM is our third largest source of tourism as well. So, we cannot afford a situation to develop where people in the region can???t get to Barbados either???, Mr. Stuart said.