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Thursday, April 19, 2012

Dominica prime minister optimistic about crime-fighting strategy

ROSEAU, Dominica, Wednesday April 18, 2012 – In recent months, Dominica has been grappling with a spate of criminal activities including attacks on tourists and the murder of a prominent hotelier.  Police are also searching for suspects in the kidnapping of three men.
Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit nevertheless says he remains optimistic that a government initiative to deal with crime will bear fruit.

The government has launched the Community Outreach Programme on crime and violence, which allows for meetings with various stakeholders.

According to Skerrit, “What we are trying to do is embrace everybody who is prepared to make a meaningful contribution.  That charge is being led by the attorney general and the minister of national security who are going around the communities ... to curb any violence or criminal behaviour within our society.”

“The whole idea is to let people understand that crime is a societal problem which requires a societal response.  Spending a lot of time blaming others is not going to solve crime,” Skerrit said, adding, “It is about each one of us recognising that we have a part to play towards fighting crime, and this is what we are seeking to do.”

The prime minister said that he is encouraged by the attendance at the meetings held so far “and people are suggesting ways, bringing forth ideas as to how we can fight crime, what is the cause of it from their own perspective”.

“So the whole idea is to underscore the concerted efforts of all concerned in fighting crime,” he explained.


Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Why no air transport talks including REDjet?

By Sir Ronald Sanders

BRIDGETOWN, Barbados, Monday April 16, 2012 - What prohibits a meeting of representatives of Caribbean Community (CARICOM) governments on the crucial matter of air transport within the region, even as the situation worsens, is beyond comprehension.

Three blatant realties are these:  Caribbean Airlines Ltd (CAL) is losing money once its massive fuel subsidy from the Trinidad and Tobago Government is subtracted from its declared profits; LIAT, the smaller Caribbean airline, is also losing money in part because it is competing with CAL on an uneven playing field; and REDjet, a low-cost carrier has had to suspend its much sought after service, because of what it says are broken promises by the Barbados government and long delays by some Caribbean governments to grant it licenses to fly into their countries.

It has long been the case that air transport in the region requires rationalization that takes account of costs, wasteful expenditure, and a means of satisfying the pent-up desire by the people of the Caribbean to travel within the region at reasonable prices.

Today, the need for such rationalization is urgent.

If matters continue as they are, LIAT – whose majority owners are the governments of Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados and St Vincent and the Grenadines – will grind to a halt.  It cannot much longer compete with CAL when it pays US$110 a barrel for oil while CAL is paying the highly-subsidized price of US$50.   Because of the subsidy by the Trinidad and Tobago government which also owns CAL, the airline can set a lower price for tickets than LIAT.  To compete, LIAT has to lower its prices and this adds to the factors that cause it to lose money.   Other factors are that LIAT employs more than 150 people than it needs, and the maintenance and break-downs of its aging fleet are costly.

Long ago, CAL and LIAT should have held discussions to work out how the two airlines could co-operate to ensure the survival of each while providing an affordable service to the people of the Caribbean.  One element of such a discussion could have included agreement for LIAT to service CAL’s long-haul flights from key Caribbean hubs such as Barbados, Antigua and Trinidad – in other words share the Caribbean routes. 

The most satisfactory approach would be an agreement for CAL and LIAT to amalgamate into a single airline with all the governments that are now shareholders in CAL and LIAT becoming shareholders in the new company on the basis of some agreed principles.  Among such principles would be that the subsidy now enjoyed by CAL would be extended to the new amalgamated airline.  This would help to bring down the costs of travel for Caribbean people.  Another element would be recognition by all governments that some routes in the Caribbean will always be unprofitable and would need to be subsidized by all governments.

There is nothing novel in the suggestion of a subsidy.  As has been pointed out repeatedly, many Caribbean governments are subsiding flights of foreign airlines, such as American, British Airways and Virgin Atlantic, to the tune of millions of dollars a year. They do so to keep tourists coming in to their countries and to protect jobs in the tourist industry.  But, there is little appreciation that Caribbean people are tourists too.  In some countries, they represent the third largest number of tourists, and could be so for others if the cost of air fares is made reasonable. 

The recent (third) resignation of CAL’s Chairman, George Nicholas, could be an opportunity for CAL and LIAT to work out a co-operative arrangement or amalgamation.  Mr Nicholas had shown no interest in discussions with LIAT’s management that had begun under his predecessor.  But, such a meeting, while highly desirable, is not a substitute for Caribbean governments to hold an extraordinary session on the matter. 

Neither the purposes of regional integration nor enhanced tourism is served by the current situation and, in this connection, the suspension of flights by the low-cost carrier REDjet is particularly to be regretted.  There is great sympathy for the airline’s employees, and for potential passengers who paid for flights and are waiting in hope for the airline to resume flying.  But there must also be sympathy for REDjet’s investors who began their operations on the basis of written agreements and promises that have not been met.

Much was made recently of concessions to REDjet by the Barbados government where the airline is headquartered.  And, while these concessions are not to be dismissed, they are no more than are given to other investment companies. They did not give the airline an advantage over LIAT and CAL which also do not pay many of the taxes and dividends from which REDjet is exempted.

Two years ago in April 2010, REDjet was assured by the Barbados government that “a policy decision has been taken” that “it should be recognized as a Barbadian carrier” and that it would be provided “with the requisite aeropolitical support” to secure authorizations to fly into countries “with which Barbados has air services agreements”.   Those agreements exist with all CARICOM countries.  Yet, both Trinidad and Jamaica delayed licenses while the airline haemorrhaged money. 

In January this year, before REDjet announced suspension of its flights, there was a written understanding that the Barbados government would “pursue particulars of a possibe Guarantee for a loan facility”  to assist with a US$4 million injection into the company.  This did not happen even though subsidies to foreign airlines continued.

The Government of Guyana has indicated a serious interest in helping REDjet to resume its flights, particularly as the demand for airlift is currently increasing by 25% a month, and authoritative indications are that a leading Caribbean Bank is prepared to lend the airline money if the governments of Guyana and Barbados come to the table.

The Caribbean public and REDjet employees would certainly welcome the airline back in the air.  A Guyana-Barbados government arrangement offers that prospect, and we must hope that it is pursued.

But, what is really needed is a comprehensive approach to affordable regional air travel.

Read more:

April update lowers forecast for 2012 hurricane season

BRIDGETOWN, Barbados, Wednesday April 18, 2012 – The latest Tropical Storm Risk (TSR) forecast update for Atlantic hurricane activity this year anticipates slightly below-norm activity.

Based on current and projected climate signals, Atlantic basin tropical cyclone activity is forecast to be about 5-10 percent below the 1950-2011 long-term norm, but 30 percent below the recent 2002-2011 ten-year norm.

The forecast calls for 12-13 named storms, 5-6 hurricanes and 2-3 major (Category 3+) hurricanes.

This forecast spans the period from June 01 to November 30, 2012, and employs data through to the end of March 2012.

The key factors behind the TSR forecast for a slightly below-average hurricane season are the anticipated effect of cooler than normal sea surface temperatures in the tropical north Atlantic during summer 2012 and the dissipation of La Nina conditions in the tropical Pacific Ocean.  These factors would help suppress Atlantic hurricane activity.

United States landfalling activity, meanwhile, is forecast to be close to the 1950-2011 long-term norm.

TSR noted that forecasting skill climbs slowly as the hurricane season approaches.  Moderate skill levels are reached by early June and good skill levels are achieved from early August.

The next TSR forecast update for this year’s hurricane season will be a pre-season forecast issued on May 25.