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Letter of the Day - Yes to true regional integration

Published:Sunday | February 21, 2010 | 12:00 AM

I AM a firm supporter of the attempts at privatisation of Air Jamaica by the Government. I am also most certainly not opposed to the ownership of the airline by Trinidadians and Caribbean Airlines. In fact, being someone schooled in the Caribbean and a graduate of the University of the West Indies, I am a strong proponent of regional integration. What I am, however, opposed to is regional integration that lacks true regional participation and accrual of benefits.

Jamaica makes up roughly 50 per cent of the English-speaking Caribbean and so should, in theory, contribute about the same proportion of patronage once the deal is finalised. The doubling of Caribbean Airlines' market base will give the airline the economies of scale to compete against the larger airlines which also service the Caribbean, and help to ensure its long-term survival. Do not neglect the fact for a second that the long-term viability of Caribbean Airlines is as much dependent on this sale as is the Government on halting the haemorrhaging of Jamaican taxpayers' money. For this reason, more so than any other, I believe it is unacceptable that no serious attempt is being made to forge a regional private partnership to own the airline.

Need for pause

I believe the Government of Jamaica needs to immediately hit the pause button and strongly encourage Caribbean Airlines to seek out private partners within Jamaica and the wider Caribbean, as part of any deal with the Government. While the ability of the Jamaica Airline Pilots' Association and the rest of the Air Jamaica staff to own and operate the airline outrightly is still unclear, they ought not to be ruled out as potential partners.

If the Jamaican Government pushes for wider regional private ownership and Caribbean Airlines genuinely embraces it and there are no takers, then I would say, "Shame on you Jamaican and regional businessmen!" and I would then encourage the Government to let the chips fall where they may. If, on the other hand, the Government fails to push for the wider private partnership, or if Caribbean Airlines refuses to embrace it, then I will withhold my support from Caribbean Airlines if they become owners of Air Jamaica, as a matter of principle. I would also strongly encourage others to do likewise.

I am, etc.,

Everton Jackson