On May 19, of this year, Trinidad’s Minister of Finance Larry Howai named a new board of directors for Caribbean Airlines. Just three days before, he told legislators that CAL was in the red by US$100 million, and he appointed independent legislator Phillip Marshall as chairman and continued the board appointment of Jamaican, Dennis Lalor. All the other directors had to resign.

In the course of that month, the Airline Pilots who had worked for Air Jamaica, and were still working for CAL complained that their jobs had been threatened, and contended they were being intimidated. What had gone wrong?

Peter Berkley (a Trinidadian Management Consultant) had documented the sorry story of CAL and other Caribbean Airlines. He wrote, “Nonetheless, BWIA was replaced by CAL, which then acquired Air Jamaica, and did a poor job of integrating Air Jamaica into its operations; not a good start for a one Caribbean Airline.”

“Unfortunately, beginning with a new set of directors CAL offered nothing but dysfunctional, unfocused, and what can only be described as incompetent leadership. Board decisions that, for instance, made irresponsible financial and route decisions which are directly responsible for the current financial quagmire in which the Airline finds itself.”

What went awry? “When a particular recommendation was being reviewed, the sentiment expressed by the minister in charge was that it was more important that chairmen and directors were chosen on the basis of loyalty, and not competence, because a competent person may not be loyal, but you can try to make a loyal person competent.”

This is a frightening comment, but reality about Caribbean Politics, self- centered and discriminative.

This is the reason that the airline is not able to consolidate its strengths by being the capable ‘one Caribbean Airline.’ Their decisions are drowning the airline in red ink. These directors, Trinidadian, Eastern Caribbean, and Jamaican, are incapable of moving the airline forward; it is like a rudderless vessel being tossed around on a disturbed sea of political agenda.

The answer is in the making; the New Finance Minister Is about to set a new board, with hopefully the proper mandate. Sometimes I wonder how much money must be wasted before a proper solution is decided; the first board chaired by Arthur Lok Jack, with senior business executives from BP, PWC, Neil & Massey, left the accounts in financial strength. Jamaica’s share of this is 17% of US100 million unless we can recover by making gains.

(407 words)





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