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Diaspora group backs pilots in Air Jamaica saga

Published:Friday | January 29, 2010 | 12:00 AM

Edmond Campbell, Senior Staff Reporter

AN UNFLATTERING comment on the Government's handling of the divestment of Air Jamaica to an overseas entity by a powerful diaspora group yesterday paved the way for sharp exchanges between at least two committee members in Gordon House.

A member of the Jamaican Diaspora Advisory Board called the administration's plans to divest Air Jamaica to Caribbean Airlines a "crucial mistake with long-term consequences for Jamaica and Jamaicans in the diaspora".

Batting for the acquisition of the airline by the Jamaica Airline Pilots' Association and other employees of the company, Sharon Ffolkes Abrahams, a diaspora board member, implored the administration to consider the proposal from the local group favourably.

Stressing that the airline should remain in Jamaican hands, Ffolkes Abrahams said members of the diaspora "will not stand silent and watch while our birthright is sold".

She suggested that the diaspora was not consulted on the matter and argued that Jamaicans overseas would have been willing to assist in rescuing the national carrier.

"Should the Government need funds to assist in debt reduction or funds to assist in programmes in Jamaica, then the diaspora needs to be engaged," she said.

Noting that there were three million Jamaicans in the diaspora, Ffolkes Abrahams pointed out that if financial support was sought, it could go a far way in helping the country.

"If each Jamaican (in the diaspora) gave US$100 over one year, we would have US$200 million and over 10 years US$2 billion," she added.

She said the various diplomatic missions and other financial institutions could be asked to collect the donations.

Rush to sell

Committee member Sandrea Falconer agreed with the comments of the advisory board, saying the "rush to sell it (airline) was high-handed at best".

"The Government could have engaged the Jamaican public, members of the diaspora and the staff," she argued.

She said the Jamaica Airline Pilots' Association's proposal "was not given enough of a hearing or treated properly".

Her comments drew the ire of Laurie Broderick, who accused Falconer of playing politics.

"It is unfortunate that the senator had taken on the debate in a political sense," said Broderick.

The opposition senator dismissed Broderick's assertion, charging that his comment that she injected politics into the discussion was unfortunate.

Broderick defended the Government's decision to divest the national carrier.

"Please, I find it hard to accept when it is said that as a government, we did not pay any attention to the needs of the people and we just dispassionately got rid of Air Jamaica without thought. That is quite erroneous."

Committee Chairman Dr Ronald Robinson also sought to set the record straight. He said investors were given a chance to submit bids and some were shortlisted. "I do not think that more than a year was rushing."

He said the Government could not continue to subsidise Air Jamaica at a cost of millions per day.

Committee member Anthony Hylton said the airline provided a critical link between Jamaica and the diaspora and as such, the group should have been consulted.