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[Editorial, LIAT] A seat at the table

Posted: Sun Oct 28, 2018
by bimjim ... the-table/

[Editorial, LIAT] A seat at the table
October 27, 2018

The recent cabinet briefing notes indicated that the Prime Minister reported to the cabinet on his meeting in Barbados. His primary purpose for visiting the ‘land of the flying fish,’ was to attend a meeting of the LIAT shareholders. Wait, before you suck your teeth and move on to another topic, this is worth a discussion because LIAT is too vital an institution to the region to simply ignore and turn our backs. We know it is painful, but few things in life that are worth it are easy.

According to the notes, the Prime Minister stated that there “is definitely a need for greater cooperation among the LIAT shareholders and the non-shareholder states that benefit from the regional airline.” As obvious as that statement is, there is a need to highlight it because it is a fact. A regional air transportation carrier is something that needs a united approach and it is imperative that shareholder and non-shareholder governments get together to find a solution.

We are not advocating that we should just accept that LIAT is and will always be a money-losing airline but the stark reality is, it is exactly that right now. Having just a few countries shoulder that burden is unfair and unreasonable. There is a saying that ‘many hands make light work’ and the same concept can be applied to spreading the burden of subsidies among all LIAT destinations.

It is easy to think that LIAT will be there forever but that may not be the case. As the notes pointed out, “Barbados’ current fiscal position, forcing it into an IMF Stand-by Program for nearly US$300 million, would not allow for that 51% shareholder country to provide significant fiscal support to LIAT at this time.” If the majority shareholder cannot support the airline because of financial constraints, what happens? Others will have to step into the breach and shore up the economic defences. That is what happens in a community.

Unfortunately, the nations of the Caribbean never seem to be able to function well as a community, even when their best interests are at stake. We are sure that it would not take much of an in-depth economic analysis to determine the impact of not having a regional airline, so we are unsure of what the non-shareholder government’s are waiting for to get involved. What they stand to lose is greater than what they will contribute.

We have heard all the excuses but what we haven’t heard is the alternative plan. Some nations have said that they will not become shareholders until LIAT cleans up its act, but what specific cleanup are they referring to? Everyone knows that something needs to be done to change the airline’s fortunes but that requires all hands on deck. As we have stated before, when there is a problem, the more minds working on the problem, the greater the chance of a solution. If we restrict the number of minds contemplating a problem and searching for a solution, we restrict the chances of finding a good solution.

That brings us to the revelation that only one trade union attended the meeting. We would love to know why. Speak to any LIAT employee and they have ideas to improve the airline. Why not represent that body of intellect and knowledge at high-level meetings like this? We are not going to get into the politics or reasons for not attending because we do not have all the facts, but we have to ask: when do we put aside the bad blood and start a unified approach to finding a meaningful solution?

In the world of business, and beyond, there is a phrase that talks about having “a seat at the table.” It refers to being part of the decision-making group, and those limited seats are usually highly sought after – everyone wants a seat at the table! In this case, however, it appears that the unions have abdicated their right to their seat. How then can they criticise those who make decisions at the table?

Again, we do not know all the reasons regarding the lack of representation by the unions but we are more than a bit puzzled by their absence. We would think that their members would want a strong advocacy at the decision-making table as they are people who may have the best ideas and they are the ones that have to live with the decisions made.

We have heard one side so we will await the other side. We hope that the union(s) will share their take on the challenges that face LIAT and will explain why they have decided that it is better to sit on the sidelines.

Re: [Editorial, LIAT] A seat at the table

Posted: Sun Oct 28, 2018
by bimjim
Shortly after her complete sweep of Parliament in Barbados I provided PM Mottley (who holds more than 50% of LIAT shares) with a 20-page document detailing the problems at LIAT from the top down (in addition to an analysis of the aviation problems in Barbados).

That document suggested ALL of the Board Members should be replaced with people who have enough aviation experience that they cannot be "brambled" (as they were with the ATR purchase), and that the Shareholder Chairman (whose "rotation" among owner governments seems to have actually broken off) be relieved of his burden, since only having to pay 11% of the subsidy bill (losses) and having his own airline at home has obviously led to gross abuses - which I also detailed.

My document also detailed the problem with management. A person with zero previous aviation experience and who "loves LIAT" AND is not even a competent accountant is NOT the kind of person who should be directing the flow of hundreds of millions of US$ and making strategic decisions on the airline's way forward.

Most of LIAT's management also rose through the ranks... this means they have no other experiences to draw from, and can offer nothing to LIAT's future but how they have always done it at LIAT.

In order to make progress, LIAT needs PROFESSIONAL management, someone with global experience who knows what works and what does not work, who knows what the numbers are supposed to look like and how to hook LIAT up so that it becomes a positive financial force and not a negative drag on everybody in the region.

I also tried to explain why LIAT Head Office should not be moved from Antigua to Barbados - and the Category One matter is only the tip of that iceberg.

From 16 years at LIAT I _KNOW_ that LIAT can reach at minimum break even, and perhaps if run correctly even make a profit and contribute to the shareholder Treasuries... but that is NOT going to happen with the current hodge-podge of politically appointed non-aviation people who are calling the shots and making the decisions.

An airline is NOT a haberdashery or fast food joint, it REQUIRES almost half of its employees to be highly licensed professionals who do their work to very high standards in the transportation of people.

The employees are not the problem, it is pretty much everyone above them who drag LIAT down.

An airline is also NOT a political football, a place where a Minister can send his wayward youth to secure employment. Margins (profits) are small, and unqualified, untrained people DO get in the way - not to mention that especially with invisible propellers spinning the ramp is a dangerous place to be if you just wander around without knowing what is going on around you. Employees have DIED on almost all of our region's ramps for just this exact reason.

In my document I made suggestions for the improvement and future of LIAT at the hands of experienced regionals and a professional CEO. Unfortunately, I fear they are not "politically correct" and will be ignored.

As to employee suggestions, management never took any notice of employee input during the entire 16 years I was at LIAT, and I don't expect that will have changed at all since then.

One bad politically motivated decision after another, one bad CEO after another, one stupid political prank after another.

Periodically I say to myself, "I have seen this before", and then remember the instance of each and every new Shareholder Chairman, CEO and "overhaul" LIAT has had over the last 50 years. The promises, the forecasts - and then settling back into the same old routine because they are just the same old politician's lies.

For instance - after more than 40 years - LIAT's annual accounts are still "none of our damned business", even though all of those hundreds of millions of dollars come out of our pockets. Historically, when accounts are hidden like that, an audit will show up long lines of politicians who have been stealing from the company. So what is being hidden from the taxpayer of the shareholder countries here?

"Plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose"
(The more things change, the more they remain the same.)

Except at LIAT, where they actually get much worse with time.