The Trinidad and Tobago government has given the greenlight for Caribbean Airlines Limited (CAL) to spend US$200 million on purchasing nine aircraft from the French manufacturer ATR, ending weeks of disagreement between the Transport and Works Minister Austin Jack Warner and the airline’s board.
Attorney General Anand Ramlogan, who announced the agreement, said that Warner, who had previously given the Persad-Bissessar administration an ultimatum to choose him or the CAL board, had acted in the best interest of the airline and of the public when he took the matter to Cabinet expeditiously to have the deal approved.
“Mr Warner at all material times did no wrong, but was acting in the public interest … the deal made good sense and timely action to complete it was required. Procrastination is not an option. Procrastination would simply have acted to the detriment of Caribbean Airlines,” Ramlogan said.
Speaking at the end of the weekly Cabinet meeting last Thursday, Ramlogan said the ATR deal, “I am advised by the expert, is a good one and good value for money”.
Good safety record
Ramlogan said John Dunne, the airline safety expert hired by the government, affirmed the ATR aircraft had a good safety record.
He said there were now over 400 ATR aircraft in service with some 80 airlines worldwide. But the attorney general said the CAL board, headed by businessman George Nicholas, who had been in favour of purchasing the aircraft from the Canada-based Bombardier, had raised “legitimate concerns.
“The chairman of Caribbean Airlines would have been well within his rights to flag this issue for consideration … and have a moment of detached reflection.
“And as the prime minister said, this government was not prepared to dig its heels in the ground but planned to listen, listen and listen, and then lead.”
Ramlogan complimented both Warner and George Nicholas for the cooperation they showed during the mediation process adding that the issue was a blessing in disguise.
“I am happy that it came early in our administration and would now be a flagship and a beacon to guide all the ships in the public and state sector so we would not have a repeat … I am happy for the public controversy it generated, because the resolution will now send a resounding and sound message to all ministers and chairmen, so that they can work together in accordance with corporate governance best practice and procedure.”
In a statement, CAL, which earlier this year took over Air Jamaica, said that earlier this week Nicholas met with Warner “to discuss and successfully resolve the issues which have held centre stage in the media for several weeks.
“We had a very warm meeting with full and frank discussion of the issues on both sides and agreed to embark on a new relationship between the board and its line minister with full observance of all the protocols required, in compliance with the State Enterprises Monitoring Manual,” the statement said.
It said that both men “have reasserted their desire to work very closely together going forward for the betterment of the airline and toward the fulfillment of the dream of one Caribbean airline”.
Warner told reporters that he now has no choice but to “eat” his previous words, and give his commitment to work with the CAL chairman.
“There have been mistakes a bit on both sides … those people who believe that I have backtracked or eaten my words, let me say in my long political life I have had to eat my words many times, and I have found on each occasion that to be a very nourishing diet,” Warner said.
“Apologies have been accepted unreservedly and we proceed now to work to ensure that the Government’s equity investment in Caribbean Airlines, and our continued support, will generate meaningful benefits to all our stakeholders.”
He said he always sought to work in the greater interest of the people and it would be best that this entire issue be put to rest.
“I will be making no further statement of the past, as I’m confident that the future of Caribbean Airlines is about to take off as it should,” Warner said.