Against the backdrop of concerns by Antigua & Barbuda that Barbados has too much power in LIAT, the political strategist behind yesterday’s landslide victory for the Antigua and Barbuda Labour Party is advising Prime Minister Gaston Browne not to let the country’s economic problems stop it from increasing its shareholding in the airline.
Considering, too, that Antigua does not want the airline’s headquarters to be relocated to Bridgetown, Hartley Henry told Barbados TODAY this afternoon, if the new prime minister Browne and his government failed to acquire the shareholding that would put it in a much stronger negotiating position, the situation would backfire on the twin-island nation.
In fact, Henry said, it was that “weak” position in which the former government found itself, that had cost it dearly at the polls.
“You need to appreciate that LIAT, with the demise of the Stanford Financial Group in Antigua, LIAT is the single largest employer in Antigua, after the government; and therefore the approach of the former administration, was not the most reassuring to LIAT workers and by extension their families,” pointed out the political strategist.
He said “it was recognised that they were going to the negotiating table with Barbados, from a position of weakness”.
“You cannot go as a minority shareholder and seeking to maintain control and influence and standing up to the majority shareholder. And even though to this day there has been not a clear decision as to whether LIAT and LIAT headquarters [will relocate to Barbados], the reality is, I think many Antiguans were not satisfied that the former administration was handling the matter as wisely as they coud have, and [they] were not seeing light at the end of the tunnel in terms of the maintenance of the LIAT headquarters operations in Antigua.”
“Gaston Browne’s position was that, look, we acknowledge that we are a weak partner, but before we take you on, we are going to equalize. So if it is necessary for us to invest some money in the airline to increase our space, to increase our hold on the airline, then we are prepared to do that; so that when we tackle Barbados, we tackle Barbados now as an equal partner and we are in a position to truly negotiate and wrestle for the airline and the decision making from Barbados,” Henry declared.
The ALP’s political strategist suggested that Browne’s decision was a common sense one.
“And I think that that would have resonated well with the Antigua population because, essentially they saw it as making sense.”
Another major issue which Henry thought worked against the outgoing government was its indication it would privatize the telephone and light and power companies.
“That, he argued, did not go down well with voters, considering that the Antigua Public Utilities Company was the second largest employer after LIAT.
The plan to sell the electrity firm, he noted, also backfired. He observed that the company to which the electricity component was to be sold, is not unknown to Barbados and Dominica.
“And therefore what you had was a situation where, even though persons would have been supportive of their party, it was also a case of self-preservation, where you would have voted for privatization of electricity and telephone that would have amount to about 350 jobs,” asserted Henry.
“So again, there were some strategic errors on the part of the government [former] in terms of articulating in detail such proposals that would have had some a negative impact on the very persons that would have been seeking to have support in the election.”
The political strategist also identified other strategic “blunders” made by the UPP such as focusing too much on the 28 year’ legacy of the ALP, particularly under the Birds at a time when the main talking points and concerns of the masses were unemployment and lack of housing.
He said, too, that place and timing of the Spencer team’s major campaign event during the final days before the general election was also a failure. He said the UPP took the people into the ghetto for a gospel concert on the Sunday before the Whit Monday, while the ALP staged its motorcade the Monday.
Henry explained also that his election strategy took consideration of three fundamental factors –– running an aggressive campaign to ensure people collected their national identification cards as part of the controversial voter registration exercise; ensuring that the masses stayed focus and avoided the finger pointing and efforts by the UPP to concentrate on the 28 years prior to 2004 while pushing employment and the provision of housing; and intensifying the tried and tested house-to-house campaign.
He said leadership was also something which the former administration wanted to make an issue but which did not work, considering the youthfulness of Gaston Browne at age 47 as opposed to Baldwin Spencer at age 65. Henry concluded that the young people went for Browne.